Thursday, 22 March 2012

"Differently Abled?"

There was a lecture by a "differently abled" person today on the campus. I read the notice about it - partially - the way I read emails these days. I was intrigued. I love attending lectures such as this but in recent times I have rarely managed to. The best phase of my life for this was my post-doc years in Cambridge...

The child was going to be with me all afternoon today. This person - who lost use of her legs in childhood thanks to a polio attack - was going to talk a bit about swimming. So I figured it would be a good thing for the two of us to go to, as long as it did not go on for a very long time (and started on time).

To cut a long story short. It was the most mind-blowing lecture I have been to in recent times. I am not un-used to people who are able to overcome their problems, fight the good fight, and come up on top. Sure there are lots of examples out there and I am not un-aware of those examples. But this one touched my heart so deeply...

Oh! The way Madhavi spoke! Very simple. To the point. Direct. Like an arrow. "I want to say that I like engineers - its obvious why. Its because of engineers and their designs that I have all this" she said, pointing to her walker, her wheelchair, and videos of her driving a car.

"Whats the most important thing for a person like me?" she asked a room that was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. The answer, which this room-full of IITians couldn't really come up with was, "Independence- the simple ability to do the things you guys do so routinely - climb up stairs, walk, run, go to the beach and dip your feet in the water" No, she didn't say it in a melodramatic fashion, very matter-of-fact...

And yet I sniffed into my handkerchief too many times to count. While Madhavi sat there in a little plastic chair, her laptop open in front of her, her nearly useless legs splayed in front, her quicksilver fingers flying across her keyboard. And this beautiful smile on her face the whole time. & I practically broke down when she pointed to a video where she is walking under water and said "Do you see my legs actually walking without support?"

"Tell me one thing you might design that might be useful to someone like me" she challenged us. Some person in the audience told her "Throwball would be easier"when she asked us what it would take for her to play volleyball. I almost got up and punched the guy in the face. "Oh you disabled woman, throwball rather than volleyball for you." - is that what he wanted to say? & Why?

"That might be true, but I want to play volleyball" Madhavi smiled at him. And I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if she does, and does a fab job of it. She learnt swimming at 38 years of age and won 4 golds at the national paraolympic competition recently. She says she will climb the Mt. Everest one day... if she feels like it.

"I am strong willed but being a national swimming champion has boosted my confidence incredibly" said Madhavi, "not boasting, just saying that it has changed me" To some extent, you had to be there. She has this presence. Yes, a presence. This tiny dynamo, with just two working limbs and a slightly bent body, who made this room full of "normal" people feel so very tiny and insignificant.

"I blog" she told us. I wrote it down and read it. You can find it here: Madhavi's Blog. I hope to meet her sometime soon. But before that I really hope that I have some answers for her...

Monday, 19 March 2012

Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock

The child loves The Big Bang Theory. In the initial phase when it was a lot about Sheldon and his crazy geekiness, we used to watch it together once in a while. This serves the dual purpose of allowing me to not have to watch cartoons (which are awful & I hate them), and preventing fights between the family folk for the remote.

Well, not really on that last one. Husband mine strongly belongs to the category of people interested in 
'What ELSE is on TV' rather than what is going on in the current channel. He hunts. He travels where no human has traveled before. To AXN and FOX Crime (I would prefer to knit sweaters than watch that channel, even for 5 microseconds. Not that knitting sweaters is wrong. Just not my thing). And beyond.

Yesterday I made a big list of things we wanted to do on Sunday. I always have a list. In fact with Evernote I am extra enthu about lists because it looks good and it is there in my computer to admire. I love admiring lists. I love the little check-box I can make and the tick-mark I can put down.

Last year we bought the child a large white board. She loves the white board in her father's office. It is of course a fancy schmancy one which prints out the content that are on it and stuff. She likes the basic one in my office which still features a list I made last year and haven't gotten around to completing. So we thought she would like her own. 

We cannot watch TBBT anymore though. Now, its all about sex. Like almost entirely. They seem to have even gotten Sheldon on board the sex-wagon now. Not one episode goes by without him saying 'coitus.' I was a fan because it reminded me vaguely of my grad school days, and it was something the child & I could watch, & I didn't have to be subjected to Kid vs. Kat. But bah. That phase is done. 

Yesterday's list was not long. I negotiated hard and allotted 'only 5 books' to read through Sunday. I have discussed this earlier with choxbox and she suggested to me a limit on the number of pages per day. Never been able to implement it though. I was adamant about the 5 book limit yesterday. Logic usually works with her so I tried that. 

I showed her the list of things to be done. I put down an hour by hour plan. I pointed at the things that were optional for her, which she could use for reading. Like 'Nap Time' - which was primarily for me. I have coached myself into being a good afternoon napper these days. Oh horror. Must change that. She whined a bit but mostly agreed to comply.

The whiteboard is largely un-used. I have to literally FORCE her to write anything on it. Currently, there is one math sum written on it. In the corner is a list that I made (and have pretty much ignored). And in the middle is a fancy gadget the child claims to have 'designed'. By this she means she has made a sketch of something that looks vaguely like a comic book martian with scissor hands. 

Just as a means to force her to cut down on obsessive reading, I get on her case about doing other things. Yesterday I kept her on a tight leash for the most part. We watched a swimming tournament ('spectating' I called it). We went to my office (but she brought a book there, unfortunately). I made her memorise the grocery list and recite it to me in the store (instead of hitting the book-stand there). Then I gave up and took a nap.

I guess the gadget is supposed to be a multipurpose swiss army knife type thing. Or an electric razor. Or something you can use instead of your hands, to play rock paper scissors on lazy, rainy days. Or something to fix up her cycle. Without dwelling too much on it, I dragged her out and we cleaned our cycles and oiled them and got our hands all nasty and our legs all mosquito-bitten, in the evening.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Of jumbles and read-ons

On a whim, I said to the child

Here, let me teach you how to do The Hindu crossword.

Y'know, 'cause every self-respecting Tam has to know how to do The Hindu crossword. And only that. Not the TOI one (oo mama). Not the Telegraph (shudder). Not the Deccan Herald one (ugh).

Before you ask, yes, we subscribe to The Hindu. Also the TOI. Our newspaper/magazine subscription story is a long one. I don't want to talk about it now. Suffice to say that we don't seem to have much control over what gets flung on our doorstep (dislodging, in the process, about a kilogram of mosquitoes).

There are few things you are better at than me 

The child tells me, in passing, while skipping a pink coloured skipping rope haltingly. Discussion (calmly now) led to the conclusion that I am better than her at most things (at this point of time). In fact, at all things except swimming. I quickly added a 'at this point of time' tag to it, knowing full well that its untrue. Hanging out with her in the pool today, for example, in five minutes, she had touched the bottom, wormed her way up, hung out upside down in the middle of the lane and criss-crossed me a hundred times. I was clutching the ladder and going 'Cat and Mouse' 'Cat and Mouse' in my head, meanwhile.

I am definitely good at this crossword business, so learn you from me.

I tell her. I learnt some of the stuff that is known in CW folklore, from my dear friend airspy. Yes, despite being a professor, I admit it. Some class time in college was spent by us on this activity. I have spent hours on the damned thing in my younger days, thats for sure. Not all of it in class. Oh yes, before you ask, my parents had The Hindu as well. Mum still does. Of course we drink coffee as well. I missed the centum by a mark or two, if  you must know.

Most people hate math Amma

The child informs me, playing in distracted manner with the sudoku. I should go up in flames at that surely. I tell her thats utter nonsense and its virtually impossible to dislike math. Forget hating it. It is the most beautiful thing in the world. Without numbers, there is nothing, and so what if some rote memorisation of the multiplication table is required? It is only a matter of time before you are fast enough to figure the thing out without memorising, I argue.

Let me help you guys take this one over the line

The husband shows up on the scene with his jargon and his brazen confidence. We forget about math and focus on words now. Sometimes I feel I love words more than numbers. Only sometimes though. I point to the inherent symmetry in the grid, surprising the child, who hasn't noticed it (or, it is not a rule followed in children's crosswords, possibly). There are a lot of anagrams, as usual. "Jumbles" the family chooses to call them. The occasional read-on clue. Really, there is nothing too remarkably clever in the CW. Is it a reflection of the times? The lowering of standards? Or have I become just super good at this.

What is this? Two girls in love before marriage? Super funny Amma

The child says. I choose not to comment on the clue itself, but pencil in the answer. She cracks up big time. She calls her father back to the dining table - the scene of our crimes. "Prema Rita L" do you see, she sniggers. Assuming that he doesn't understand, she goes on to explain. The two girls are Prema and Rita, and love is L. "Prema Rita" she has been going on after that, laughing each time, "What a clue!" Her innocent eyes light up when something makes sense, when I guide her gently to the answer. Its thankful that I know the end-point now, and can walk her to it, and I can almost see the bulb go off in her head.

You are growing up so fast, child

Pretty soon, I will NOT be better than you. At anything. Math, Skipping, Basketball, Crosswords even, perhaps. For years my dad would ask me to help me figure out the CW. I learnt fast and he couldn't catch up with me. He would make a big deal how it made no sense. Truth is, its silly, not the most intellectual of puzzles out there, but it is a lot of fun, once you figure it out. As you surely will, child. Before I know it, you will be really good at all these things... And all grown up... And off to college... And actually knowing what 'premarital' means, and implies.. It is all so scary at times...

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Life, and Lemons

I have been trying to swim for the few months, diligently. I admit it, honestly, I suck at it. I have no rhythm. I have no style. I am not in the least bit comfortable. I don't 'feel' it at all. But I want to stick at it. I figure, over the course of time, I will improve. At least, I cannot regress. Thats for sure.

The child makes a lot of jokes about my swimming. "Your arms move like windmills" she says. "You are thrashing around" she smirks. "What happened to you? You were doing so well" she smiles. I tolerate it sometimes and ask her for some ideas on how to improve. At other times I ask her to zip it.

When I wake up and remember that the day's workout is a swim, I feel a knot. I always consider ditching it and going for a run. 'Cause thats my thing. I like it. Over the years, I have begun to LOVE it. Everyone said that training for a marathon - being super disciplined about that - will suck the joy out of it. It didn't for me. I enjoyed the process itself.

Yesterday I was running. I was happily on my long run. I was singing. I had my fuel belt with electrolyte and water (two bottles only, I rarely even drink those two, don't need four bottles!). I had my little ipod shuffle stuck somewhere. I was wearing my favourite purple tshirt and the black basketball shorts. I was trying to see if the shorts caused any chafing in a long run, for future purposes.

I was running on the pavement. Humidity is high so I was sweating buckets. I did a quick wipe of face with towel but managed to dislodge the ipod in the process. I bent to fix that and BOOM my ankle went flying out. It felt like something super dramatic but it was just un-even pavement, and I twisted my historically bad right ankle. It hurt to continue running so I walked.

"Walk it off kid" my husband said to me in a long ago time when we were not married. Probably not old enough to be married. My ankle turned in a basketball game. As it has so many times since then. I walked it off and bound it tighter and sub-bed back in after a few minutes. Remembering to hobble only after the whistle was blown.

I walked and walked it yesterday. Then I tried to run. It hurt. Sometimes the hurt goes away once you get the rhythm in the running motion, so I tried to continue. But it hurt more than usual. So I stopped running and walked. I was about 2 kms from home when it happened. Sensible thing would have been to turn back. I continued on, instead, getting into the IIT campus.

When I finally made that U-turn and returned home, walking all the while, trying to keep my stance neutral and not step badly to compensate for the pain (believe me, this I have done in my youth. I am done with all that). I had walked 6 kms in total after the twist. Sounds stupid? Well, I think it was fine. My body betrays me often but I resist its betrayal.

The story of my athletic career has really been this. Waiting for the next injury. There is always something. I am comfortable with ankle injuries though, because they are old hat in my life. I am not going to sit around and mope. I went through patches of self-pity yesterday. Hope that thats behind me.

This morning I woke up, undid the crepe bandage, and went and swam. I was at the pool anyway for the child. It was not comfortable. It was worse than usual. I thrashed around for an hour inexpertly before giving up. When life gives you lemons...etc.. so I guess I stay away from running, plyometrics and all that for a few days, and concentrate on swimming and biking and sitting down/lying down ab-workouts, not to mention upper body strength training (which I have avoided for a while now). Hell Yeah. Down, but not out! 

Friday, 9 March 2012

Cowbells Ringing

I have just come off of a really jam packed week. A billion thoughts are swirling inside my head. I feel I must share at least a few of them here.

The main event in my life this week was the celebration of International Women's Day. I talked about it in parts in this blog in previous posts already. But at the back end of this celebration, was so much effort. We really struggled with myriad issues within and without to put together a coherent day. As I said to someone who asked me today. A few people said they enjoyed it, and thanked me for my efforts. Fewer number of people had complaints. So, on balance, I think I will call it a win, of sorts.

It is the first time I am putting together something of this magnitude. The academic conferences and such like have been cake walks in comparison with this one. It would normally be my tendency to romanticize the whole thing. To paint that rosy picture of a rural path with cows ambling along, their bells ringing musically, and happy contended folks walking around celebrating their uncomplicated life. But I feel reluctant to do that this time. So bear with me.

The first issue I faced was one of having to cater to too many different tastes. I am an accommodating person by nature. If you give me a suggestion, and if I don't happen to have a strong opinion about that matter, I am likely to take it (except if you are my husband, of course). I tried to ask around and get ideas from various people. About what the day should entail. I got some clear ones. But mostly, I got a lot of ifs and buts and generic theoretical gyaan which was increasingly less useful as we approached D-Day.

Perhaps its a failing of mine. I like everything to be well organised. I work better in the small picture sometimes, than the big one. When I delegate, I like to hear back progress on the details. Not a general 'yes, its all done.' That sort of thing makes me nervous. I like lists. I like ticking off things on lists. I like to look upon a list at the end of the day and find items ticked off. For example, on Tuesday, this was one part of my list:

Clearly, there were a lot of things there. The four people who slogged along with me in the final analysis, did a lot of lot of work. I am really grateful to them. I was fully expecting that I would have to do those things myself, and that would have really broken me. But these women were just awesome. They were the ones that made my day special. The only regret I have is that I did not realise that I should focus my efforts on them, and not that large amorphous mass of women on the campus. What I should have done was talked more with them. Figured out what things excite them. And planned to do those and only those (of course with my own flavour). 

The other painful realisation was about our young people. I have been a young person myself. I have been a not-young person, on the other side of the classroom, for ten years now. Every day I try to retain some empathy. To look at things from student's perspective. To recall the time when I was in that place in life. To not become 'that professor' - you know - the cynical urban legend of a monster professor who eats undergraduates for breakfast. But I have my breaking points. Broadly, I think, if I average out my decade, I have had less reciprocation from students than I deserve. I mean, even if one looks objectively. Its disappointing. But not very surprising.

I am big on figuring out positive traits, and positive angles on experiences. An eternal optimist if you will.  At the end of a very busy, chaotic day when Murphy ruled strong and I was overall disappointed with my own performance, I still had several very awesome things I took away. Many thoughts and emotions that I personally experienced during the course of the day that made me feel wonderful and lucky and so very happy to have such an opportunity given to me. The scope for personal growth is immense here and that is typically good enough for me to overcome any misgivings...

Watch this space for some more upbeat reports; and what games Murphy played, next! 

Monday, 5 March 2012

Hello Gorgeous!

This is going to be an interesting week! For perhaps the first time in my life, I am getting ready to celebrate International Women's Day with gusto. Lots of things are going to happen on thursday. But the most awesome thing? Is this.

Yes, our very own Kiran Manral, Lady K, Gorgeousness Personified, is going to be here! For real! I am so very super duper excited!

Have you read The Reluctant Detective? Its really an awesome, breezy read. I sat down and read it in one shot and sat there thinking about my Mumbai suburban days. Sure, there is a murder mystery (or two!) in there, but for me, it was more about how Kay sees herself in the grand scheme of life. To her parents she is still that child who might be a tad irresponsible. To her son, she is the world. To her husband, the balance and excitement in his life. To her friends she is the patient ear and always a phone call away. You will fall in love with the reluctant detective for sure - it cannot be helped!

I haven't seen Lady K for a while now. In the interim, her indiahelps has grown, and her initiatives in that direction have taken off so very very well. Her blogs have mushroomed into several each with a distinct voice. And most importantly, is this book of hers, for which we all waited with bated breath! I am so so proud of her and feeling very special to be her friend. I am also really grateful to her for agreeing to come to our geeky campus, and hope that the event will go well! 

Friday, 2 March 2012

Baby you can drive my car

We have spent a lot of time driving around in our youth. We have criss-crossed all over the United States, mainly. Many a weekend, we would rent a car or when we owned one, fill it with gas and just take off. I was the official map-reader or 'navigationalist' as I called myself. As this was in the days before all that new technology that you kids seem to use so naturally, these maps were giant pieces of paper. I am thinking of you and your gizmos and your upcoming drive, sraikh..

We stopped at 'Tourist Information Center's in various towns and cities we visited, and picked up maps. We still have a whole pile of them sitting somewhere in our book-shelf. Useless, of course. But there is one in particular that I absolutely am not going to manage to get rid of. The one that helped us get from New York/New Jersey into Massachusetts about a million times. Its patched up with sticky tape in several places. It has black marker marks from trips over the ages. Oh. Beautiful young times.

Since we were long-distancing for a whole lot of time, the way it worked was this. Potus would drive up every Friday evening. I would wait - super tired - very excited - really apprehensive (snow storms would scare the crap out of me every winter friday night). He is an efficient driver. He has few needs. I don't even think he needs to pee just before leaving the house (and I still have to go about half an hour into the ride). He can manage his hunger very well. Of late, he is not quite as good about managing thirst and always steps out with a bottle of water, but in those days, even that was optional.

By the time he arrived, it would be late. But he was always assured of a hot meal that I would cook. It was always super very tasty because of the two secret ingredients I used - butter and love - one I used somewhat sparingly and the other very generously. Simple food, with lots of vegetables. And that jasmine rice we bought in big bags. We would watch something funny on the tiny TV and eat our dinner. I would somehow manage to be much more exhausted than him.

If there was a long weekend (as there often was) or if we were taking a vacation (as we occasionally did), we did not think twice about driving everywhere. We would have driven cross country if we had the time. Thankfully, we only did about half the really wide breadth of the US. Now the time for that has passed, and we still sort of feel bad about that missed opportunity. Now we have baggage of course but she is fine - we can still talk about it as if we could do it. We did get into fights, and I remember one time, entering New York City, being completely unable to see anything because of some awful glare from the sun, and getting really furious because he was copping attitude while navigating...and completely ignoring anything I was saying...

This morning as we stepped out of the door, the plan was to go our separate ways. I would drive my little hyundai to my office. He would drive his monster beamer; drop the child off. But the father-daughter duo conspired and did some emotional blackmail and I agreed to go with them. Which means we (as in, he), drives my car (its so much easier to park is the argument!). And so it happened that I was driven all the way to my office after the child was dropped off. For a second, it felt like the old times. A small car. Just the two of us. Clapton and the Beatles jostling for attention. A small fight about something irrelevant...

We turned left though and it was all over. We rolled our window down and I yelled and he gave the guy the finger. Then swore continuously in all the languages he claims to know at every vehicle and driver in our immediate vicinity. It took us twenty minutes to reach - just 3 kilometers away my office is.... And it was all bumpy and the roads all crap. Not to mention two wheelers going in and out and crazy stuff from auto drivers. Oh. We still do drive a fair bit - both within the city and to Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram and Bangalore and Mysore - plus we did that monster drive from Mumbai to here - but we both uniformly hate it.

Beep Beep Beep Beep Yeah.