Thursday, 25 November 2010

Lets talk about her now

I suppose on some levels, I imagine my (not so little) girl growing up and reading my blog. Right now, I don't let her read it. Nope. She is aware of the four letter words. She comments on them if we let fly (I am usually fairly careful when I am around her, I swear our relationship is as if she is my mum-in-law). At any rate I don't want her to read these things know, she hates it when I talk about her to other people. She is perennially convinced that I am out to get her. Although when I harass her about it she admits to knowing that I love her very much. So anyway, part of me hopes that one day, lonely in college or grad school or at work, she will read through my archives and, hopefully, not judge me.

Love is a nice thing. I mean I really love being able to love. Some days, when I close my eyes and think about her, I love her so much. Almost unconditionally. Yes, I get furious with her. We routinely fight. Its strange, my husband calls me on it often. But our relationship is a lot more equal than it ought to be. I mean, I am thirty years older, and presumably know better than her. But all my new-age - What do YOU think about that?; I believe this, others believe that, you can choose one; The important thing is that you learned something from the exercise - all this crap has ensured that I cannot be that School Marm-ish Mom. You know, the one with the glasses and the severe ponytail (or bun), whose word is The Law. When I am angry I blame the husband, he treats me like that, thats why she does too, I insist. Of course the truth is that I ALLOW her to be like that, I enjoy being her friend (somewhat), I am willing to take the fact that she ignores me at times as long as she feels comfortable telling me some ridiculous thing from her school.

One thing that I feel I must insist on is homework. I got into a zone in the past few months where I was happy that the school was not assigning any real work to be done at home. I assumed that this meant that they are teaching things themselves, and doing well with that. I mean, thats my model of teaching as well. I rarely assign homework (the reasons for that are different, however. I rarely assign homework because my uber-smart students cut corners. They copy the solutions. I hate that. But also recognise on some levels that they copy because its boring to do themselves, not because its difficult). Anyhow. I presume that I do a good job 'helping them learn' in the classroom; I assign problems to be solved in class; I walk around and nudge them towards the right way of thinking/answer, etc. But heaven knows how much impact I have. Its completely impossible to measure. But anyway imagine my chagrin when I realise that thats not really how it works in school.

Okay, this deserves its own paragraph. What do I think schools should do? Its very simple (perhaps). They need to ensure that the kids LOVE all that stuff. You know, that math, the science, the stories, new languages and new words, drawing, everything. Is there a place, in my opinion, for routine stuff, you know, such as the reciting of multiplication tables and writing a word that they spelled wrong, four times? Well, yes, as long as its fun for them. I love reciting the tables, I swear I do. I would have loved 'imposition' if my school teachers had given it to me, really. I know that its not always possible to teach things in super creative, innovative ways, without the child even knowing that she is learning. Sometimes its okay to recourse to conventional stuff, especially when you are a conventional school with a teacher:student ratio of 34:1. I think its okay, as a parent, this is a choice I have made and am willing to go with it. In fact, I might even believe in its benefits (unmeasurable as they are), to my child. Again, as long as you make sure that she is having fun and not cribbing about it.

So anyway the school barely assigns any homework. Her normal teacher (the one who does math and science and english), is, in my opinion, very good. She is quite eccentric - which is why I like her. She suddenly throws some idea out and before you know it, some of the kids are making monkey tails and so on. I don't know her well enough (and I don't follow the school activities closely enough) to know which are the things that she does herself, out of her enthu, and which are required by the school, of course, but still. But the tamil part is a LOT more routine. I realised this recently, so now I try to work with her on it regularly (which is a struggle since I am learning as we go along as well; my mum-in-law, you know, the real one who never says anything to me about stuff, she has been helping her as well). The process takes about 10 minutes. Thats all. And I am quite capable of doing crazy things. Like, dictation. She was getting really irritated at having to do that. So I said, okay, I love it, so you give me dictation. So now thats what we do. Of course she feels immensely pleased when I score 12/15 and she draws me a nasty face and shows my book to everybody, but I guess (hope), its just as effective in terms of figuring out the spellings as the other way around.

Which goes to show that despite the following:
14 years of school
4 years of college
5.5 years of grad school
1.5 years of post-doc experience
8.5 years of work experience as a professor
I am nothing but a dork who scored 9/12 on a tamil test (given by my daughter) last week. And a large part of my relationship with my child is based on my being crazy, and a complete lack of a plan.

"So, does she run?" people ask me, you know, because they know how nuts I am about running. Not to mention basketball. And soccer. Cycling. Kick Boxing. Yes, I love (to play) almost all sports (except cricket, golf, and table tennis, I hate those). The father of the child is a hulk of an athlete (in his non-corpo avatar) as well. But you know what? The answer is NO. As in, I don't insist she does. I cannot be assed to run with her. I don't have the patience to coach her in basketball. I have taught her cycling (somewhat) and occasionally give her tips when we are swimming, but I really cannot be bothered about doing these things seriously. Its up to her to ask me, perhaps when she is older! Meanwhile, I am happy enough making monkey masks and sticking sparkly stars on her diwali diya, with her.

(so, Kiran Manral, there.)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Dilli Chalo!

I always end up having to go to Delhi in December. Or thereabouts. In the past, I have not enjoyed this. The Chandigarh trip a few years ago with the family in tow was good fun, but Delhi as such, the conferences, they were not so much fun. I was cold. I was butt-freezing cold. So, when people would talk about the Delhi Half Marathon, I would look away. I am a Mumbai girl, I would say. I specialise in the Mumbai Half, I would insist. One H.M. a year is plenty, I would add, partly to myself. Delhi is just too damn cold for me, I would claim.

I ran in a lot more races this year, for sure. I never thought I would run the Delhi Half Marathon, but this year, I did! I also used it as an excuse to raise funds for a couple of my recent acquaintances Children's Day program.

Like I have lived the past two months, I ran the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, wrapped up in my world but not completely unaware of surroundings. I have cut fuss out of my life, almost. I did not carry a bag to the venue. I ate paruppu podi saadam and curd rice for dinner. I stayed awake till the household slept - thankfully, not very late. I told the husband to rest and not join me at Delhi. I took the simplest option for getting there. I woke up, ate a banana and drank some coffee. I zipped my old phone, a couple of hundred bucks, and a Gu that my friend (let me call her Atom) gave me, into the pocket. I ate a granola bar and a tiny bit of water. I reached and did the security and the loo (so many people cribbing about the loos, please, you cannot expect anything else, just do that thing you have to in India - and Srilanka too - DONT SIT DOWN - just perch). Met friend. She suggested a strategy. It sounded good. She paced the first 5- 8 km, just awesomely she paced it. We stuck together. I ate a bit of Gu and drank some water at 8 km. at 11 km, the time was 1:00; which was our target per strategy, so that was good. I was waning a bit earlier but when I saw the 12 km, I felt awesome. My head was down somewhat so I don't even really know what road we ran on. I met with the one and only Sivey at some stage, I think it was 8-12 km, he was dressed all in black.

Atom was happy with our pace though she said she was waning a bit at 15 km. I was not. She is an experienced girl, I was sure this is what she would want me to do, so I carried on, reciting multiplication tables in my head. We met only at the end after that. I was at 17 km. I had a bit more Gu some time. I decided to chuck the rest of it; now its between you and your mind, Kenny, I told myself. I did pick up some Lucozade sometime; that was DEFINITELY helpful, and thank you, sensible people, for having it in a cup and not in a giant 0.5 l bottle. Upslope. My strategy for the slope was simple, not think about it. Left and right people were walking. I did not care. This was not a slope as far as I was concerned. That worked (incredibly enough)! At 19 km was a crazy dude out in the middle with a mike, great job ma'am, you are at 19 now, he said, loudly, into the mike. WOOT, I said to him and smiled. When I hooked the U and came back, I found him faltering once and saying, you just have 19 more to go! Ha! funny that! Just before that, one guy missed the water station and was crying 'Water' rather plaintively. I gave him my bottle. So now I am at 19 km and have nothing in my hand except my towel.

A glance at my watch. Cannot do the math. I can only count now. Not even the 1 times table. Guy playing Guzaarish on his phone/musical device. I cannot look at him because that involves turning my head. I sing a few snatches of it and pass him. But I can see in my watch that I have not crossed 2 hours. Wow. This has never happened before. I practice what I will say to the husband when I call him. I search desperately for the 500 m mark - I know its there because I saw it on my way out. I cannot do math at this stage at all, but I figure I should finish within 3 mins now, if I can just find legs enough for a little over a stadium loop. A loop I know I can do in 2 mins in normal circumstances. I accelerate a bit, and am almost surprised to see the 300 m mark. A lady in black that I have been chasing all morning long is just in front. I would LIKE to overtake her but don't want to focus on that and that alone. I decide to just give it my all and sprint, and not look at her, or anyone else. Okay, maybe stride-sprint if not sprint-sprint.

I dip my head (old sprinter habit refuses to go away).

I have finished in 1:58 per my watch, I see. The board above me says 2:03. That makes sense. We were at least 4 mins behind the gun. I am still sensible. Nothing hurts, really. I get my finisher medal. I can walk. I can think. I find lemon lucozade. Awesome. I drink some of it. Of course I am glad its in a bottle. I hold on to that bottle and drink it all day long.

Atom finds me, we think she is a minute behind. I am confident she finished under 2 as well. Which was our goal... I dont even stretch much, really. I just walk around a bit. I pick up the snack pack - awesome pack with one banana and two apples. Nothing nasty in it. I buff the apple and eat it. I have not even sweated too much. The weather and route were just perfect, I realise. I have done my personal best time. And finally met a goal. I bask in that for a bit.

I return back to Gurgaon. The SIL and husband and kid are waiting with a board that says 'You are a champ' I feel embarrassed, chiefly. I am also hungry, and in desperate need of a bath. 'Do you want a hug' I ask them - this is my standard line every morning for the past few months after a sweaty run. 'Eww Amma, go bathe RIGHT NOW' says the monster as I slowly pick up my towel and step onto the cold bathroom tile...

Friday, 12 November 2010

A Race And A Cause

Dear Friends,

I am running in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on Nov. 21, 2010. I am doing this partly to support a small cause: Asha Nivas Children's Day and Children's Rights Day 2010, which will be held on Nov. 20, 2010 in Chennai.

Asha Nivas is a voluntary organisation working with nearly 5000 children in Chennai city. They provide basic needs of food, clothing, education etc. and have two shelter homes for children. The children's day event at "All Women's Service Center", Kellys, Chennai - 10, is a celebration involving food, fun, and prizes (for an ongoing event called "Child Parliament").

John and Kumar, who work at Asha Nivas, are acquaintances for the past year. This request for funds for the Children's Day comes through them. I hope to raise about Rs.20000/- through my efforts, which would cover a part of the cost of the food and snacks to be served at the event.

I request your support, if this seems reasonable to you. The monetary contributions are best made in terms of crossed checks in favour of 'Asha Nivas.' The organisation has both 80G and FCRA clearance, which means that you can write foreign currency checks, and receive a 50% IT benefit on your contributed amount if you are in India.

I intend to contribute Rs.2100 personally, which is Rs.100 for every kilometer that I will run next Sunday. Please write in the comments section if you are interested. I will send you the address and so on then.

Thank You!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

On a more cheerful note...

I was not in the mood earlier, but just now, I am. And have 10 mins to spare. So...

I re-read all my angst-ridden diwali posts over the years. I thought long and hard about festivals and traditions and why I am like that about them. I mean, I am not against them, per se. I thought I was, but actually I find it a lot more convenient and peaceful to not oppose traditions. They are so deeply entwined with people's emotions and nostalgic feelings and, occasionally, fear, that I don't want to get into that. These are people I love, I have to keep sight of that fact, most of all. So now, my take on it right now is that I feel bothered by some aspects of regular tradition. I dislike some aspects, additionally. I struggle (internally) to find meaning in most of it.

The pollution (noise and air), child labour, filth, waste and trash aspects of diwali I have somehow managed to come to terms with. As in, yes, I think they are all causes of serious concern. One ought to work on somehow, slowly, taking care of these things without getting into people's face. And we ought to try and think a little before indulging. I definitely have chats with my monster about these aspects. The schools, and Young World, and Trisha (well, one of those rare days on which I read The Hindu Magazine section), talk about them as well.

I don't want to talk about the less, most subtle reasons I am bothered. Instead I want to talk about an attempt I made this year, to make it better. Simply put, here it is. I spoke to a couple of my friends, deshvaasi, in particular. I called my friend Vimal at Goonj. Vimal and Andrew, who run Goonj's Chennai arm, are friends (of sorts). I met with Anshu Gupta (who founded Goonj) sometime ago, when he visited Chennai. I first heard of Goonj fairly recently actually, like three years ago perhaps, at MadMomma's. I like them.

I spoke about them at home. This is what I do. I talk about things. The monster picked up on it as their school has a poster (and a big, largely empty, box) about whirlpool's Ek Judi Kapda initiative (for Goonj). Parents-in-law picked up on it as they have been thinking of Udavum Karangal for clothes donations, recently. I took a couple of hours out each day the week of Diwali. Some of the time went into shopping (for our and the household help's families). One afternoon I sat with the parents-in-law and we accumulated three large sacks of stuff from their Godrej almirah. Then I sat with the monster and we put her clothes into piles - Keep, Give to Maid's Kid; Give to Flower-Seller's Kid; Give to Gardener's Kid; Goonj. I did the same with mine (Keep; Maid; Goonj). I found a nice sack full of socks. Ideal for Goonj as the winter comes on in non-Chennai parts of our country. The husband showed up few hours before our departure and likewise added his rather large clothes to our pile. Yes, all of these clothes are washed, some even ironed. Most of the clothes can be worn as such. A small portion of it might be better off used in Goonj's rather large effort on making Sanitary Napkins.

Thursday afternoon, post-lunch, monster & I drove to the campus. Deshvaasi, SBZ aka Peace, and her little daughter; and the two of us went to Goonj's wearhouse. We dropped our piles of clothes. Then we talked a bit with Vimal. Then we sat down - the three adults working through a pile of books (Textbooks, Novels, Picture Books, Notebooks/One-side paper; Crap paper); and the kids working through a pile of toys (Soft and Hard). We had seven sorted boxes (or so) at the end of it. If I had not taken the monster, and had gone with a larger army of friends, we could have helped a lot more. But then...

So this is how (and why), I was okay with Diwali and all aspects of it, when it rolled around on Friday. Because I was feeling peaceful, not about my measly two hours of sorting or my drop-in-the-ocean pile of last year's kurtis, but because I saw the potential there is. I saw a wearhouse bursting with clothes (a truck had just arrived two days prior). Two six-year olds giggled over a cockroach roaming amidst the toys. I saw the .ppt again and again had tears in my eyes when I saw the little thatched school that they built for Rs.80. The monster and I spoke all day and next about what we could do - not on a big large scale (I don't believe in that, so much) but small chota things...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Ups and Downs

I seem to have promised a post, about diwali and deepavali and all that. I struggle routinely with this festival. The Festival of Excess, I call it. I have some reasonably good memories of it, from childhood. I think I dislike it, nevertheless. In the spirit of, if you can't like it, change it, I had some plans afoot this year to do it differently. I don't fight things. If you tell me its your tradition, I don't reason with you and ask you to change it. Instead, I go undercover and add my own things to your tradition. To ensure I can smile (and not grimace) through it. I think I was partly successful, this year.

The husband's back started acting up. We did what we usually do, and ignored it slightly and threw some Amrutanjan and so on at it. It got worse (not because of, but just, you know). Bravely we plodded through the day, my mother in law and I alternately looking at each other with big eyes and saying 'He looks like he has fever' 'Must be the pain' etc., sort of in a repeat loop. The man in question, meanwhile, slept and harassed us for our big eyes, in sequence. Doctor was visited with extreme trepidation (don't like the breed, cannot see eye to eye with them). Turned out to be a decent fellow. Then the usual MRI (the Xray, it seems, is for wimps. Real men go in for an MRI. Oh well). A gigantic film of bones and discs was promptly procured and compared against previous (five years ago; Mumbai floods, remember that? Trauma squared that was). Anyway business as usual now. Some rest and some sensible behaviour ought to fix it. And I have calmed down now and able to think somewhat straight about life, and times.

In the midst of all this (mostly in my mind) tension, things were going on. Sweet boxes to be given. Saris to be distributed. New clothes to be worn (rather reluctantly, I admit. I hate the idea of wearing new stuff and hanging out at home. I am not a home body. I like to be out of the house. Chop Chop. Plus, there was cooking to do, hate to cook wearing anything other than my trusted old shorts and the Red Tshirt that says "Legends Never Die"). The monster to be dealt with, her excitement about the crackers and flowerpots and sparklers, indulged, somewhat - a task usually outsourced to the man of the household, for several reasons. A mammoth task of cupboard cleaning I had embarked upon, to be completed. In an attempt to keep my distaste to the minimum, I might have added on too many things 'to do' on Diwali, too many things.

I should have chirpily spoken on the phone to friends and family, yes, that would have been a nice touch, but I just did not have the mind-space for it, not even to talk to mum and tell her about my new purple dress. Its been raining insanely out here. Yes, I am dimly aware of some cyclonic activity that is being talked about. Its nice, the rain. But somehow I cannot get enough sleep, because of it. I am sleeping all the time that I am not doing something, it feels like, and its still not enough, like I could lie down now and sleep. Rather strange for me as I am not even known for afternoon naps. I have not run. I am too fatigued. You know those times when you feel like you are on a treadmill and life is moving on and carrying you with it? Well, this is one such. And all I want to really do it get off and sleep.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Black: Rain

Of course you mainly come here to try and see if there is any connection between title and contents of blog post. Of course you do. Let me help you out by quickly providing you this, so that you can move on and read phdcomics, or krishashok, or hhc, or whatever.

It was raining. I wore black. Which, without really consulting a mirror, I think hides wetness well. Mind, I did not consult a mirror, so perhaps I am wrong. Whatever. Who cares? At my age...

This is a blog post that ludwig was supposed to write. Especially given that I specifically asked him to. Since he hasn't, I take the burden upon myself. Always the shoulders, always the burden. Thats Kenny.

Saturday dawned dark and dreary. I clutched my phone as I am wont to in the wee hours, taking care to press on the right and not the left (left switches off the alarm, right snoozes it). The homies were sleeping blissfully, breathing (and snoring, respectively), in harmonized manner. I love them a lot when they are asleep, especially when they have not entangled themselves into me and dug their hands (one smooth and soft, the other very rough) into the small of my back in a knotty knot, are not breathing on my face, and have given me the space I justly deserve, in our bed. The bed which I have covered currently in a navy blue sheet with six-petal-white-flowers drawn on it.

So I jumped out. Sat long run. Bring it. I looked outside the window. All dark. All monsoon-y. But in a nice way. Not like nasty Mumbai - somehow I hated the Mumbai rains except for the first fifteen days of the season. I used to wear a raincoat and carry an umbrella for a large part of those four months of rain. I like the Chennai rains. My indiscretions of the weekend usually catch up with me on Wednesday, hump day, as it were. I am hoping I will not change my mind on this, the day after tomorrow. Anyhow it was not a real long run. Just a short 10 km or thereabouts.

Messages back and forth. A quick call to ludwig. An increasing sense of my own lunacy. I ignored all the nagging thoughts. Slush. Puddles. Water. Soakedness of clothes (after all, modesty, above all! modesty!). Monster's half-day of school. Fuck it. I am going. I wheeled my cycle out. The asics can use a bit of a wash, I remember thinking.

I had many thoughts. I crossed many puddles and pools. I got soaked within seconds of leaving the house, and so I rode my cycle into the puddles with impunity. I used to love to do that in school but mum would kick my ass about it so that would make me hesitate. Now, I am the master of my domain (and do my own laundry, thank you), so ha! I appreciated the dry-fit material of my clothes extensively. I felt encouraged thinking about how I have always been a bit of a mountain goat - I don't fall easily. I especially loved the green fresh look of the campus. And the waterproof-ness of my Timex. Sivey and Ludwig, after giving me those weird looks from inside the car, finally got out after a while and ran. It stopped raining too. I don't remember sweating. I don't remember much, except that it was awesome.

"Are you fucking insane?" asked the husband when I returned home. All pumped up on endorphins, soggy wet, and jubilant and extra-energetic. "I guess so. But it was great fun" I said, as I dried out my hair and showered....