January 30, 2009

I’ve been gently reminded that when my loyal readers visit my blog every day or so, they expect to find something there to engage their eyes and delight their minds… well, that is to say, it’s not that I was reminded in quite the same words, but I was reminded nevertheless.

In my defense, I’ve been busy… looking for a job. I appear to have found one, though it might be equally true to say that it found me. It meets most of my criteria for a perfect job – it appears interesting and challenging, I can work from home, and it pays well. I haven’t signed on the dotted line yet, so celebrations are probably premature… but what the heck, I’m celebrating anyway.

The last week or so I’ve been absorbed in the job. I haven’t actually started work yet – I’ll probably start in full flow on Monday – but I’ve certainly got more than my toes wet. Because I’m going to be handling a project that is just starting up, I’ve been involved with a lot of initial thinking and set-up work, and that’s been fun. My mind has been at work, even before the rest of me actually got employed and it feels like a part of my brain that I had forgotten about has suddenly sprung into action again. You know – like when you go to the gym one day out of the blue and muscles you didn’t even know you had wake up and start clamouring. Like that.

Meanwhile, we’re also looking for a new residence. We are quite fond of the existing one, really, but it’s going to be awfully cramped as the kids grow up. We’ve already completely run out of cupboard space and shelf space, so the thought of something big, spacious, and new is quite appealing. Of course, the footwork that goes into actually getting a new place is not even half as appealing. Plus, it’s a strange time to be buying property, what with the global recession and all that.

And then, just when things are finally hotting up after months of sitting at home, we’re doing what all sensible people do when the going gets tough – we’re going on vacation. Yes, again. What do you mean, we just went, that was last month. And this is going to be next month. See, two whole months in between? This time we’re going up North, to a remote hill-station where they don’t have electricity and when they say you get running hot water, they mean it literally (yes, a boy comes running with a bucket-full). Oh and, we heard, there’s every possibility that it might snow up there in mid-February – that’ll be another first for the twins.

So yes, there’s lots going on, and not much to blog about.

Me, Liberated? I Think So

January 22, 2009

I was having a conversation with sup33 the other day about names: maiden names and marital names (if that’s the name for the name of a woman who changes her name to her husband’s name after marriage – if you know what I mean).

I changed my name after marriage; sup33 didn’t. “Well you were only 24,” she said consolingly, implying that at that tender age I perhaps hadn’t quite thought things through.

But I had.

It’s true that I didn’t demand that Amit change his surname to mine; in fact, I didn’t even ask hypothetically if he would if I asked him to. I think he probably would have refused, and probably would have also said that I didn’t have to change my name if I didn’t want to.

But I wanted to.

For me, it wasn’t about bowing to tradition, or to Amit, or being subservient to his family, or to the laws of society in general. It was simply out of love for Amit, a sense of joy in my commitment to him by way of marriage, and a desire to proclaim to the world at large that we were man and wife. The fact that I felt no pressure or expectation from his side, that I felt quite sure I needn’t change my name if I didn’t want to, ensured that I had no qualms about doing so. And now, 11 years on, my maiden name is just a memory, while my marital name is who I am.

I did another little thing along with this change of name which, to anyone who knows me, might appear quite out of character.

Bengalis don’t have a mangal sutra; they have a ring, but it’s not the most important symbol of marriage. What they have is kacha-shaka – the traditional bangles, one red, one white, worn on each hand – that is, two of each, four in all. Well, my white ones got busted on our first night (symbolic, that, but not in the way it is intended to be) and were never replaced. The red ones lie neglected in some corner of some drawer at home. This, I’m sure, is not at all surprising to anyone who knows me.

But what might be surprising is what comes next. You see, Bengalis also have this metal bracelet thingy, sometimes decorated with a thin layer of gold, which is worn at the wedding and thereafter is never to be taken off until death do you part. This I do have. And, for some reason, I made a promise to myself when I got married that I would honour this tradition, and I have. I have never, ever taken it off since that day.

Of course I don’t know what superstitions are attached to taking it off prematurely, nor do I want to know, far less believe such things. Neither do I know or care to consider what I will do in the event that death do us part. But I took that bracelet as symbolic of my commitment, my marriage, and I chose to wear it always. It’s a part of me now, just as much as my hair, my glasses, and my marital name.

My point is that, if women’s lib dictates that I should automatically reject such customs, then I think that women’s lib is as restrictive as the very restrictions it sets out to free women from. For me, being liberated means being free to decide to do something, or not do something, purely based on my own choice. If I am secure about my equality and freedom in my relationship, then I don’t have to question whether taking my husband’s name or wearing a bracelet somehow makes me subservient to him or makes me his possession.

Does women’s lib mean that I have to shy away from doing something that I actually want to do, or don’t mind doing, just because it’s what I’m expected to do? If I am really liberated, can’t I choose to do something not because society ordains it, but inspite of that?

Gajar ka halwa

January 18, 2009

It’s not that I’m a great fan of gajar ka halwa, but of late these large red carrots have started appearing in the market, which, to someone born and raised in the north, speak eloquently of gajar ka halwa. I don’t have anything against the small orange carrots, it’s just that they speak somewhat half-heartedly – to whatever little extent they speak at all – of half-cooked carrot and peas without any masala of any kind, served alongside a slab of some kind of delicious meat, intended primarily to provide some colour to the plate and not really meant to be eaten. They certainly don’t look even vaguely related to gajar ka halwa.

However. The red carrots have been in the market for a couple of weeks at least, and some of them even found their way into my fridge, without resulting in gajar ka halwa. What tipped the scale, today, was the empty box lying in the kitchen.

Don’t get me wrong: there are always plenty of empty boxes lying in the kitchen. The cook comes and fills them up with nutritious but tasteless food and we struggle to empty them so that we can justify ordering in Chinese or pizza… It’s usually a losing battle – she fills them up faster than we can empty them. (And for doing us this huge favour, we actually pay her a good bit of money! It’s a strange world…)

This particular empty box, though, the one that prompted the gajar ka halwa, I mean, was not ours. It came from S&P loaded with some delicious puliyogray (how do you spell that in English???) and was due to be sent back some time in the foreseeable future, if I didn’t want S&P sending me food in disposable plastic cartons in future… I’ve mentioned before how I like not to send such containers back empty, if possible. But I’ve been lazy about cooking up stuff (especially vegetarian stuff) nice enough to actually give someone. Gajar ka halwa seemed to fit the bill.

Besides, while wandering on Commercial Street the other day, we had made the obligatory stop at Bhagatram, where I spied a huge pan full of gajar ka halwa. I never particularly liked their gajar ka halwa; I believe they make it by some shortcut method that involves boiling the carrot in water, when it actually has to be boiled in a vast quantity of milk, as everyone knows, and it takes forever and a day for the milk to reduce, and that’s what makes it so delicious.

So having seen the gajar ka halwa at Bhagatrams put me in the mood for eating it, but I knew that I’d have to make it first.

The thing is, it’s not a dish I make or ever have made regularly. I’ve probably made it three times in ten years of married life (and never before that). And like any dish worth its salt (or sugar), it’s an art that only practice makes perfect. So I wasn’t quite sure that I wanted to ruin a perfectly peaceful Sunday with an experiment of this sort. Besides, Amit said he was not at all interested in gajar ka halwa and had never liked it.

Still, the cook had come and grated a pile of gajar before I started seriously considering the wisdom of this venture, and once you have a great big heap of grated carrot sitting in front of you, what are you going to do with it?

So I emptied over a litre of milk into the pressure cooker – the deepest saucepan in the kitchen – dumped in the pile of carrot (no idea how much it was by weight, so if you’re hoping for a recipe here, sorry, no dice) and put it to boil.

It boiled and simmered and as it reduced, it started to leave a sticky mess on the sides of the pan, which began to slowly burn… So after it had boiled and simmered for ever, I emptied it into a wide and shallow pan for the rest of the time. Then I did something very smart – I removed some of the excess milk and put it back into the pressure cooker, added an arbitrary quantity of jaggery (gur) to it and boiled it until it threatened to boil over. The jaggery made it a lovely thick, brown fluid which I eventually poured back into the carrot mixture, which had by then almost dried up. Another half hour of boiling, and it was done! Strangely enough, it was just sweet enough.

I thought I had made it ok-ish, but when Amit threatened to finish it off in 15 minutes flat, I guessed it must be pretty good. I managed to keep aside a little for that empty box, but the rest of it finished in far less time than it took to make. Which I suppose is a good thing, but it really didn’t feel that way at the time. Still, I’m not complaining.

Oh, what the heck, I guess I am!

Do I Look Like a Kidnapper to You?

January 12, 2009

A rather nasty thing happened on Saturday. We had just got the girls’ ears pierced, and I was walking them to the toy shop nearby. They were both still crying, and I was chattering away to them in English, trying to distract them from their pain. I had achieved a certain measure of success, when Amit caught up with us and that set them off again. (Kids are weird that way.)

Anyway, the toy shop put an end to their tears, and they were ok-ish by the time we were walking back. Then, from the verandah of one of the houses we were walking past, a young chap asked Amit, “Whose kids are they?”

Amit said, “What’s it to you?”

The chap said, “Well, they were crying…”

By this time we had passed the house and the conversation therefore ended. But what the person was implying slowly sank in: They don’t look like your kids, and they were crying (all the more when Amit appeared), so whose kids have you walked off with?

I don’t know whether I felt insulted, outraged, ashamed, shocked, defensive or what. I just felt horrible. I have been so comfortable with my kids, and they with me, that it never even crossed my mind that anyone could suspect that we don’t belong together. Of course I know they don’t look anything like us, but does that alone make us kidnappers? I know that often people look at the four of us together and guess that the kids are adopted, and that often people assume that it is ok to ask us outright about it, which, actually, is ok with me but I don’t really understand how they can presume that it is ok… But to look at us and wonder whether we are walking around with someone else’s kids, just because the kids happen to be crying…!?

Amit, thick-skinned as he is, just shrugged off the matter, and I probably should do so as well, but it really shook me.

Earring Trauma

January 10, 2009

So we should have done it months and months ago and we didn’t. Naturally, we weren’t in any hurry to cause our girls an immense degree of pain. They say it’s easier to have it done when kids are very young and it hurts them less, but I don’t know about that – pain is pain at any age, I think.

Anyway, after putting it off as long as we could, we finally pushed ourselves out of the house this morning to take the twins to a jeweller’s shop and get their ears pierced. For those of my readers who are not Indian, I should explain that in India, ear-piercing happens to about 99.36 % of all girl children above the age of 3 months. Or maybe even below that age. And it happens to some of the boy babies as well. My parents never had it done to my sister and me, so we went without earrings till the ripe old age of 20+ or so. And, when I did get it done just before my wedding, I have to say, it hurt like hell. Like bloody hell, in fact.

But, while I do clearly remember the pain, I also remember the problem of not being able to wear earrings when every other girl in school had them, and you even sometimes got them as gifts because somebody’s parents couldn’t believe that you hadn’t had your ears pierced. We did get a few clip-on earrings, but there was very little variety, they looked big and clumsy, they hurt the ear lobes, and people only laughed at you for wearing them, even more than they did for not having pierced ears in the first place.

So, I thought I’d rather put my girls through a one-time trauma of getting their ears pierced, rather than have them miss out on the many delights of earrings till they grew old enough and brave enough to demand the ear piercing. Naturally, I expected them to cry – who wouldn’t? So I didn’t have the courage to attempt this on my own without Amit standing by to lend moral support. In the event, though, he lent his support mainly as a cameraman and videographed the whole thing on his cellphone. I should destroy that video before the kdis grow up and get to see it.

Anyway, we got it done, and of course they cried and howled and wailed. I’m not sure that we managed to align the dots symmetrically on Mrini, we kept getting it wrong till she lost patience, and we turned our attention to Tara. On Tara, we made the dots quickly and easily and proceeded to get her shot by the ear-piercing gun (it’s not really a gun, don’t worry). Once Tara was done and howling, Mrini began to guess that something not-nice was in store for her and began some pre-emptive wailing, which didn’t make things any easier.

It took them maybe 20 minutes afterwards to properly stop crying. By then I had got them into a toy store (clever mom, aren’t I?) where Amit distracted them with the stuff on the shelves, while I bought some essentials and some bribes. We rounded off the outing with a lunch, and by then they were all smiles again, though Tara spent a good part of the meal eyeing herself in the mirror and pointing to her ears and saying “earring”.

Which was all very well for them, but it took me another couple of hours to recover from the trauma and stop shaking.

A Date With No Reason

January 10, 2009

So our husband-wife date yesterday evening was an unmitigated… success!

Things went pretty much like clockwork. I started priming the girls in the afternoon, telling them we’d be going out that evening and that Noor-Auntie would be home with them, and that we’d be back soon, before they went to bed. They didn’t like the sound of it much, at least, Mrini looked distinctly worried. But, strangely enough, when Noor-Auntie came, both girls went to her to ask to be taken to the bathroom, so maybe they understood the idea after all. When we were leaving, both looked a little upset, but Noor-Auntie called them into the kitchen to help her shelling peas (ahhhh… the joys of fresh peas!) and they were thrilled to bits and even forgot to be miserable when we said bye to them (matter-of-factly, as the books say we should, not in a sad, guilty, worried, or otherwise negative manner).

We walked out to a nearby coffee shop kinda place that we’ve never been to before. It was already strange enough being out together without the kids, but walking into a new restaurant on our own felt really weird, it’s been years since we’ve done that. You get that strange feeling, like you don’t know the ropes, where to sit, whether you will be shown a table or should just pick one yourself, whether you need to pay and order at the counter or will be presented a menu at your table and so on. Anyway, we figured out all that, ordered, and then sat side-by-side watching tennis on a big-screen TV that was rather far away. We were both thinking of the kids, and of how strange it was to be out for a meal and not have to run around behind them and keep them under control. It was a strange feeling… weird as this sounds, I think we were missing them!

We’d promised Noor-Auntie and the twins that we’d be back by 9, and that we’d put them to bed ourselves, and despite the food taking a rather long time to appear, we made it just in time for our curfew. Mrini indicated the slightest bit of displeasure/relief at our return, but was all smiles in seconds. Noor-Auntie reported that all had gone uneventfully, and departed all smiles. Nothing could have been simpler.

So now, we’ve got to try this out more often. The one thing that has to improve, for this to work, is our ability to actually leave the kids at home, when we leave the kids at home.

Twinnings 2 – and More

January 8, 2009

Lots has been happening, but I’ve been too busy to blog about it.

The twins have started to talk, they answer questions promptly, and can sustain a back-and-forth exchange to about 4 or 5 rallies. They find novel ways to say things. Once I asked Tara if she was sleepy, she rubbed her eye and said “eye so sad,” which I took to mean yes.

They’ve become more active, both at home and in the park. They were gifted a couple of hockey sticks and balls, and I’ve mostly had to lock up the sticks because of their propensity to swing them around without a care for what (or who) is in the way. Yesterday the actually got into the Frangipani tree in the park, got out of it the other side, giggled wildly, rinse and repeat. So far they have loved being lifted into it and sat in its branches, but it’s good to see them start climbing trees, something I loved to do and had plenty of opportunity to do at just the right time of my childhood years.

They have started to enjoy jigsaw and shape-sorter type of puzzles now, as also play-doh and crayons. I thought they weren’t interested in scribbling on the walls – they’d only done it once, the rest of the time they used paper, their picture books, the floor, the bedcover, and their own bodies (with sketchpens that was, and they made such a godawful mess of their legs that they haven’t had sketch pens since) – but it appears it was only a question of opportunity.

I normally give them crayons when I’m sitting nearby keeping an eye on them, and take them away when they’re done with them; so it’s not as if they have crayons easily accessible at all times. But usually when I pack up the crayons, I can’t find quite as many as there were when they started. I’ve never bothered about this too much, they’ll turn up eventually, and if they don’t, that is also in the nature of such things.

So yesterday Mrini found one of the unclaimed, missing crayons. I was busy and turned my back to her for a couple of minutes… And that’s all she needed. Our bedroom walls became the canvas for her creativity, much to my disgust and irritation. I’ll have to keep an eye on those unclaimed crayons in future, I guess.

Meanwhile, the break from school doesn’t seem to have done them any harm. Yesterday they went back to school after a three week break, and they don’t seem to have forgotten it, they went happily and came back in high spirits. I think they now know the entire set of nursery rhymes that they hear in playschool. They surprised us by singing “God’s love wonderful” (in a somewhat garbled version) and asking for Jingle Bells (a few days after Christmas) – both songs they had not heard at home. What’s more Tara (and Mrini to a lesser extent) can tell the story of Aladdin, with a little prompting from me. It goes like this:

Me: Aladdin was a
T: Young boy
Me: And he went into a
T: Big cave
Me: And it was all
T: Dark, dark
Me: But Aladdin was
T: Very good (followed, after a pause, by) not scared
Me: He had a
T: Big torch
Me: And he went into the big cave and what did he find there? Lots of
T: Jewels
Me: And lots of
T: Camels (sometimes, rarely, it’s gold)
Me (carrying on, regardless): And a
T: Magic lamp
Me: And he gave it to his
T: Mama
Me: And she was
T: Rubbing it
Me: And
T: Polishing it
Me: And then what happened?
T: Whooooo… genie came!
Me: And genie said, Aladdin, I will give you
T: Two fishes (an interesting variation on three wishes)
Me: And the genie gave Aladdin lots of
T: Jewels
Me: And lots of
T: Camels
Me: And he made him
T: Very rich
Me: Then Aladdin went to meet the
T: Sultan daughter
Me: And he went on a
T: White horse
Me: And he fell in love with the
T: Princess (or sometimes the prince!)
Me (ignoring the gay tendency for now): And they got
T: Married
Me: And they lived
T: Happilygiligili

In other fascinating news, this morning they got up, took down their pajamas, took off their (sodden) diapers, pulled up their pants, took their diapers to the kitchen, and threw them in the dustbin!

Last week, when we returned from the park with S&P and their one-year-old daughter, p, the twins shocked all of us by happily going home with S&P, without so much as a single backward glance! (S&P luckily stay in the same building.) When Amit went to pick them up 15 minutes later, they didn’t seem very inclined to come home, and I believe Tara gave a determined no in reply to the question of whether she would like to go home.

What’s more, they repeated the act a couple of days ago, and they seem quite eager to make it a daily occurrence, without a thought for S&P’s convenience. Of course p loves the company, who’s bothered about the adults anyway?

So, given this happy independence, Amit and I decided it was high time that we adopted a baby-sitter strategy. We checked with the cook, who agreed to baby-sit one evening a week, provided we got back around 10 or, at the latest, dropped her home by 11. Considering we’ve had only two evenings out sans kids in the last 1+ year (thanks to S&S and Anjalimasi for their unpaid baby-sitting services), it sounds like a good deal. Our first date is tomorrow, and I have to say it feels a bit strange. I know we’ll both spend most of the time (we’re giving it 90 minutes for our first time out) thinking/worrying/talking about how the kids are doing without either of us around.

Big school starts in June and I think it’s going to be from 8.30 till 12.30 once they get past the settling in period. That means that, if Amit drops them, I’ll have an empty nest from 8 till 12 (when I’ll probably have to leave to pick them up). An older and wiser friend warns that I’ll miss them like crazy, but right now I can hardly wait. I always thought that when we had kids I’d like to be a SAHM for some time, but I never attempted to define the time. Now that I’ve done it for almost a year-and-a-half, I think the time to go back to work is, oh, let’s see, right about now, actually. Of course, it has to be just when there is a global recession on and there are no jobs to be had.

In my eagerness to start work, I took up a freelance writing assignment which turned out to be really, really (and I mean REALLY) boring. The sheer boredom of it almost killed me. I have never struggled so hard to finish a task in the agreed time in my entire professional life – and believe me, I’ve fought some tough battles in my day.

And finally, adoption update: We’ve been hearing for a month or so that we’d be meeting the District Magistrate any time soon, as the last step towards getting a birth certificate for the twins. It was supposed to be yesterday, then it got pushed to tomorrow, and now it stands set for Monday. Or Tuesday. Let’s hope it happens some time next week, it would be good to get those birth certificates in hand, it’s going on
for eighteen months since the twins came home.

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