Friday, December 16, 2005

Off On Holiday...

Going back "home" for three weeks after more than a year. Really, really looking forward to Einstein Bagel, Panera Bread, Bertucci's, California Pizza Kitchen, Oodles Noodles, Chevy's....Oh, and going back home, of course.

Thought for the New Year

New years bring new beginnings. If you have already started thinking along the lines of New Years' Resolutions and if one of your resolutions happens to be volunteering for a cause that's close to your heart, I hope you are able to do it.

But if you are strapped for time and cannot volunteer but are considering donating funds to a cause, I urge you to consider Project Why. Charu at Indsight has a post that explains a pledge drive that Project Why has undertaken. Simply put, find out how much a rupee a day could do for a child's life.

Here's wishing you a very happy and prosperous new year and wishing the earth no tsunamis, no earthquakes, no hurricanes, no 9/11s, 3/11s or 7/7s, and less of pollution and littering.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Akshara Update and Thank You!

There has been a flurry of e-mails over the last week ever since I put up this post calling for volunteers. After the dust has settled down somewhat, I am thrilled and proud to report that 35 volunteers have come forward to assist Akshara in the various phases of their Read Bangalore Project.

Thank you to all those who volunteered, thank you everyone that spread the word, and thank you to everyone who wrote in their best wishes for the project.

Crossposted on Everymanscity.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Akshara - First Steps in the Read Bangalore Project

As I've mentioned here and here, Akshara Foundation has undertaken a project in association with the Karnataka State Department of Education for augmenting the reading skills of primary school children (in classes 2 to 7) in about 1,374 goverment primary schools in and around Bangalore.

Once the initial base-line assessments are done (i.e., assessments of the level at which the students are currently reading and processing language), Akshara expects that about 72,000 (of about 1,90,000) children in these schools will need remedial help to bring their language skills to where they should be for their age.

Last Saturday, Bhaskar, Akash, Surjo, Mandar, Kelly and I met with Col. Rajan and Mr. Ravi Kumar of Akshara Foundation to go over what they need in terms of volunteer help. At that meeting they gave us a broad-brush presentation which gave us an idea of the scale of the project, its objective, the number of schools and the number of children involved, the kind of teacher training that will be necessary in order for the project to be successfully executed (about 3,600 goverment teachers will need to be trained to teach the children language skills over a period of 45 days), and an idea of the kind of logistics involved.

Today I had another meeting with Col. Rajan and Mr. Ashok Kamat (a trustee on Akshara's Board) regarding the first steps in this project in which we can we involved. The steps I'm describing below are only those steps in which we, as volunteers, can be involved in. There are various other pieces of the puzzle that Akshara is working on separately.

The work that needs to be completed over the next 3 and 1/2 months can be divided into two discrete steps:

1. Data Collection: There are three kinds of data that need to be collected - School data, Teacher data and Student data. To begin with, the Karnataka State Department of Education will provide Teacher and Student data to Akshara which Akshara is accepting for the time-being.

School data, on the other hand, will be primarily collected by Akshara. This is where we, the voluteers, come in. Starting December 15, 2005, Akshara will need voluteers to go to each of the schools (addresses and directions will be provided by Akshara), stand there at the location with a GPS receiver (which will also be provided by Akshara) and figure out the exact GPS location (latitudes and longitudes) of that school so the location of every single school under the project can be pin-pointed on a map.

The city is divided into 9 education blocks (with 77 clusters), so it would be possible for voluteers to pick an area and go to all the schools in a couple of clusters, for example, rather than criss-crossing the city and going all over the place.

All this work can be done on weekends and holidays (the schools need not be open for this purpose). The deadline for this step of the project is January 31, 2006.

2. Data Entry: All the data that comes in (School, Teacher and Student) will need to be keyed into computers. A couple of you had asked me if data entry can be done at home on personal computers and I confirmed today that that is possible. Data entry can be done at home and the spreadsheets can be e-mailed to Akshara. Alternatively, data entry can also be done at any of the 9 block offices of Akshara where they have dedicated computers for this purpose.

Akshara anticipates that this phase of the project will begin February 1, 2006 and the deadline is 31, March 2006.

What we need to do now is to let Akshara know which of these two phases each of the voluteers is interested in. Please leave a comment on this post with your preferance and I'll tabulate it so Akshara has a clear idea of where they have help and where they need more.

Please comment.

Crossposted on Everymanscity.

P.S. This is the 100th post on this blog. Somehow, seems fitting.

Update 1: Just wished to clarify that after the completion of the two steps described above, there will be follow-up work in the data analysis and assessment areas. Many of you have expressed interest in those areas as well, and there is plenty of opportunity to be involved in that. Thanks.

Update 2: Global Voices has linked to this effort here. Thank you Global Voices.

Update 3: Anita Bora at Just a Little Something links to this post here. Thank you Anita.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Crazy Saturday Evening

It began at 3 pm and ended at 1 am.

At 3 pm, I left to go to the Akshara meeting. It took me an hour and a half to reach Cox Town from South Bangalore. The meeting lasted an hour and a half and then back on the roads for another hour's drive back home. Then off again to my parents' house further south than our house to drop off N for his sleep over.

And then, the car ride of a life time, through the lanes and bylanes and non-existent roads of Bommanahalli and Rupen Agrahara (never knew these areas existed in Bangalore until yesterday), through what I can only describe as Martian landscape, to Airport Road/Maratahalli which we reached an hour and fifteen minutes later.

Finally to the airport from Maratahalli and then back home.

At the end of the evening, V was on a plane, N was at a sleepover with his grandparents, uncle and aunt (my brother and sister-in-law), and I was home alone.

For the first time in the last five years, seven months and twelve days, the three of us spent the night in different places.

Akshara Volunteer Meeting

Bhaskar, Akash, Surjo, Mandar, Kelly and I had a useful meeting with Col. Rajan and Mr. Ravi Kumar of Akshara Foundation yesterday. More about the meeting and its outcome in a short while.

Those who wanted to come but were unable to, don't despair, there'll be plenty of opportunity to catch up and be involved.

Crossposted on Everymanscity.

Peter Weir to Direct Shantaram

According to a PTI report that was carried in The Hindu, Peter Weir is all set to direct Johnny Depp as Shantaram. Master and Commander, Far Side of the World is one of N's favorite movies and I've enjoyed that and many of Weir's other films - Picnic at Hanging Rock, Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show.

Johnny Depp, Peter Weir and Shantaram - a deadly combination to say the least.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Volunteer Meeting at Akshara Foundation

A group of us Bangalore Bloggers is meeting with Col. Murthy Rajan, COO, Akshara Foundation on Saturday, December 3rd at 4 pm.

The purpose of the meeting is to go over the areas in which we can help Akshara in their work. For background information on Akshara Foundation, the latest project they have undertaken, and the areas in which they are seeking help, please see this post on Everymanscity.

If you are interested, please come, join us!

Here is the address at which the meeting will be held on Saturday:

Akshara Foundation,
New 129/1 MM Road cross,
Cox Town,B'lore-5
( close to Frazer town police station).

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

V.S. Naipaul's An Area of Darkness

Karrvakarela who runs the blog All Sounds to Silence Come (which I wish he would update more often - he writes so well) had left this comment on my post on Shantaram (if you have not read the book, I highly recommend that you not read the comment section of that post):
There's something I've been meaning to ask some of the Indian bloggers. I ran into a copy of VS Naipaul's An Area of Darkness in a bookshop over the weekend. Incredibly well-written, as Naipaul's books usually are, but bleak and typically bilious. What I was interested in discussing though was how the India described in the book, the India of the 60's, compares to India today. How do Indian readers feel about the book and the verities of Naipaul's observations? And how have the attitudes and perceptions described in the book evolved since the book was written?
I have not read the book. If any of you has, it would be wonderful if you could leave a comment in response to his questions. Thank you.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Of Gods and Demons

Over the past couple of months N has been fascinated with tales of Indian mythology, of the fight between good and evil and of the various Indian gods and demons.

Calvin and Tintin and Asterix and Obelix on the one hand and tales of the Dashaavathara, Ramayana and Mahabharatha on the other.

Over the weekend, he was narrating the story of Lord Narasimha, Hiranyakashipu and Prahalad to his grandparents and eventually he came to the question of why gods and demons always seemed to be fighting.

He answered his own question and said the demons were fighting to take over god's lands. Then he said, nodding wisely, "Yeah, the demons wanted Kerala because it's god's own country."

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

To Everyone That Celebrates Thanksgiving...

A very happy Thanksgiving to you. I hope you had many, many things to be thankful for this year and wish that you will have lots more things to be thankful for in the coming year.

Prague: A Little City With a Big Heart

The taxi sped past nondescript buildings and wide expanses of green grass on either side of the highway from Ruznye Aiport to the City of Prague. N and I spent much of the half-an-hour feasting our eyes on the trees - they were turning color and the leaves gleamed a brilliant yellow in the early fall sunshine.

Then suddenly, as we followed the gentle curve of the road down a slope, we saw Prague on the other side of the two-way street beyond a low-lying stone wall. The view lasted thirty seconds before the trees and the stone wall rose to block the view entirely, but we'd caught a glimpse of what was in store.
Prague nestles around the Vltava

The late afternoon sun lay shimmering on the blue expanse of the Vlatava and lent a golden glow to the bright orange roofs. Steeples and spires and chimneys rose above, and neat little rectangular windows peeped from underneath the roofs.

The taxi drove on and soon Prague presented itself in all its splendor as we crossed one of the 16 bridges across the Vlatava to our hotel. We checked in, had an early dinner and turned in to get over the jet lag that was catching up.

The next morning, fortified by a hearty breakfast and light jackets, N and I collected a walking map from the concierge, left V to attend to work and headed out toward Prague's Old Town Square. We walked about twenty paces out of the hotel and headed right back in. The cold air quickly penetrated our poor defences.

Ten minutes and an additional layer of sweaters and caps later, we found ourselves passing a couple of modern office buildings and under the highway that skirted our hotel. Paved roads gave way to cobbled streets. A brisk ten-minute walk on Na Porici, a broad two-way street broken in the middle by tram tracks and lined by old buildings converted into stores and apartments led us to this,

The Municipal House at Namesti Republicky

the Municipal House. As we approached it, we saw young men and women handing out flyers. I took one of them and saw announcements for concerts. They were performances of pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak, Handel. I looked regretfully at the man who handed me the flyer, pointed to N and shook my head, "Sorry, we can't go. We have our son with us." He said, "No problem, children are free."

What? I did a double take. A western classical music concert in a place like that and they not only allowed children, but for free? He nodded. So we took a few more flyers and happily continued on our walk to the Old Town Square promising ourselves that we would make time for one of those performances.

Right next to the Municipal House is the 15th century Powder Tower built originally to serve as an entrance to the Old Town and later comissioned to hold gun powder during conflicts in the 17th century (hence the name).

The Powder Tower led us into Old Town where we found this restaurant with outside seating.

The owner had thoughtfully lined the seats with fur. Looked very inviting to our cold, aching feet, but it was'nt lunch time yet.

So we pressed on and came to this open air market that's open every day and stocks everything from flowers to wooden toys to clothes and condiments. We bought two kinds of fudge at the shop above.

A Fruit Seller at the Open-Air Market


We passed by and passed through many doorways such as these on our way to the Square. We had walked into the building through the far doorway and found ourselves in a big courtyard with the center open to the sky. When we walked out the little passage we saw this.

It was obvious that the Czech took immense pride in their city and their buildings. The centuries old facades of their buildings were scupulously maintained. We saw scaffoldings and construction sheets on many of the buildings. Apparently the maintenance works go on all around the year except during the winters and during peak tourist season.

The city streets always wore a just-swept look. One sight that was memorable was the one of two city workers carefully prying cigarette butts out of the millions of crevices on the cobbled streets with their brooms on to the pans.

And there were many, many cigarette butts. As we walked around, we saw so many people smoking that N blurted out, with his palm against his nose, "Mama, this is such a smoking city!"



The city is also replete with narrow streets such as those below.


It is so easy to imagine Sir Lancelot galloping up this street or villagers click-clacking their way up and down these streets in their wooden clogs.


We meandered our way through the doorways and the streets and came here, to the Old Town Square.

Church of Our Lady in Front of Tyn

The Church in the background is the Church of Our Lady in Front of Tyn which is where Tyco Brahe is apparently buried.

If anything vies with the cleanliness of the city for my admiration, it is the fact that this little country produced so many luminaries - Antonin Dvorak, Bedrich Smettana, Franz Kafka, Vaclav Havel, Milan Kundera - and their achievements (at least those of the musicians) are celebrated in the numerous concerts that take place every day to packed houses. We came across more men and women handing out flyers for more concerts in more concerts halls as we continued our walk. More about the concert we attended in another post.

Another thrilling discovery was the pleasure of riding on the roads of the Czech Republic. We took two day trips, one to the west of Prague to the hotwater springs of Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) and one in the region of Bohemia to the splendid castle at Cesky Krumlov. More about these road trips in another post as well.

Guides Holding Up Signs for Walking Tours of Prague

At the end of the first morning in Prague, after about three hours of walking, we found ourselves at the Rudolfinum, the home of the Czech National Orchestra.

Rudolfinum

Some of the names in Prague - Centrum, Rudolfinum, Klementinum (the University) are very evocative of Asterix and Obelix!

Dvorak Stands Watch Over the Rudolfinum

We tried to take a tram back to the hotel but found that we had to buy tickets in advance at one of the metro stations or at newspaper stands.



So we trudged back and tried to follow a straight line back to the hotel which was hopelessly unsuccessful. We got so lost that towards the end we were walking on the very narrow sidewalk on the highway near the hotel than under it.

But by early evening, we had recovered sufficiently to head out again, with V this time. We took at taxi to the Prague Castle.

The facade of the castle as seen from one of the bridges across the moat

The Presidential offices are housed inside the castle.


The 14th Century St. Vitus' Cathedral is an integral part of the castle. The beautiful stained glass windows and the high ceilings are awe-inspiring.

As we made our rounds of the cathedral and prepared to head out, we saw an arrow pointing up one of the towers. 287 steps later (N climbed up every single one of them, but V had him on his shoulders on the way back), we were amply rewarded with spectacular views of the city.

The Dome of St. Nicholas Church

One of the most interesting streets in Prague is Golden Lane within the Prague Castle grounds. Originally built for the palace guards, the tiny houses along Golden Lane were eventually taken over by goldsmiths giving the street its present name,




and still later by some well-known writers, including Franz Kafka who apparently lived in House No. 22 for a few months. The houses are so tiny they are almost claustrophobic. Now these houses have been converted to shops that sell trinkets, books and souvenirs for the thousands of tourists who pass by here every day.


We walked down a long slope of steps from the castle back to the city. Tiny shops such as this one sellling wooden toys and art work line one side of the steps.



There is music everywhere in Prague. Two violonists and a cellist serenaded patrons at a restaurant just past the Powder Tower. We asked them to play "Volare" and they played "I Did it My Way". I don't know if there was a hidden message in that....

Musicians playing Czech folk music on Charles Bridge

On the street (Celetna) from the Powder Tower to the Old Town Square

On Charles Bridge again

Charles Bridge, the most famous of the 16 bridges that straddle the Vlatava, connects Old Town with Mala Strana, the Little Quarter that nestles just below the Prague Castle. The bridge was originally built without any of the statues and successive kings added the statues as they saw fit.

The most famous and sought after statue on Charles Bridge is the one of St. John Nepomuk. He was apparently arrested for having displeased the king, tortured and then thrown over the bridge. A legend says that if you wish to return to Prague, then you should touch the dog at the base of that statue.

Well, the smooth, burnished apperance of the dog should be some indication of how popular that legend is.

For the record, all three of us touched the statue. To echo N's words, Prague is smokin'!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Shantaram

Every spare moment over the past few days has been devoted to reading, devouring rather, Shantaram. I'm quite simply stupefied - by the book, by the man, by the things he goes through and endures, by his writing and thinking prowess, by his resilience, by the ability of a human being to put one step after the next by sheer will.

How can one man withstand all that? And then write about it with such love, compassion, empathy and understanding of the human condition?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Passion for Service Finds Market Niche

Kekelwa Dall was listening to the radio one day in early 2002 when she heard a news report on the 2000 census and the growing class of senior citizens. Something clicked in her mind. “I thought, well, they need services.”

With a graduate degree in Population Studies and Demographics, experience working for a large corporation in Zambia, her native country, and a major portion of her professional life spent working in social services (at the United Nations, the World Bank and other international development agencies, and as a social worker and volunteer), she realized she had a business concept.

From that moment in 2002 when she heard the radio report, to now, two years later, her story is a case study in how a small business gets off the ground, and could serve as a road map for other entrepreneurs looking to start a small business.

Once she had “generated this seed of interest…in doing my own business,” she went to the Fairfax County Business Center to investigate available resources. The program manager at the Center’s Office for Women walked her through the federal, state and county level resources.

She also directed Kekelwa to the Women’s Business Center (WBC) in Fairfax County and George Mason University’s (GMU) Business Enterprise Center, both of which offered classes on the mechanics of starting a business.

She initially took the classes offered at GMU. Although she had no quarrel with GMU’s classes in terms of their content, Kekelwa found herself gravitating more towards the WBC. At GMU, most of the entrepreneurs were male, and from the high-tech sector, and talking about “big, big sums” of money. “If you end up there, fine, but that was intimidating.”

Kekelwa says she felt more comfortable at the WBC because there were more female entrepreneurs there, and the WBC was a “nurturing place … for people who are starting with very small capital.”

She took the classes they offered on preparing business plans, marketing plans and financial plans, and on the mechanics of setting up a business. She also attended their networking events. It was at one of those events that she came to know of the Enterprise Development Group in Arlington through which she obtained a business loan.

Although the classes and events at the WBC carried fees, she says they were a fraction of what she would pay at commercial centers offering the same types of classes. “Forty-five dollars for a whole day’s workshop, it was definitely very cost-effective,” she says.

As a result of the time and the little bit of money she invested in educating herself on how to be an entrepreneur, she developed the fortitude to revise her business plan when circumstances called for it, and learned that obstacles are but a part of doing business.

Her biggest obstacle, she says, is being a small business in an industry inundated by large, established corporations. The question the start-up classes taught her to ask was “What are you offering that other businesses are not offering?” She found that many of her potential senior clients wanted to stay in their own homes rather than move to a senior living facility, or come home quickly (in the case of hospitalized patients) rather than prolong their expensive stays in the hospital. So she crafted a niche for her business – providing care in her clients’ homes.

When she reviewed the business plan and the various elements of her business – her potential clients, the nurses and nurse-aides she used as contractors to provide the services to her clients – she realized that there was a mismatch in terms of her available resources and the segment of the population she wanted to serve.

On the one hand, her research showed that although it was a growing population, in northern Virginia, only seven percent of the population was 65 years or older. On the other hand, her contract nurses and nurse-aides are licensed to care for people, whether they are seniors or non-seniors. She realized “we were boxing ourselves into [a small] segment of the population by just focusing on seniors.”

So in June 2003, she changed the focus of her business to include any group in terms of age, and renamed it (from Kendal Seniors Care, LLC to Kendal Home Care, LLC) to reflect the change. Kendal Home Care now provides non-medical home care services and the company’s objective is to include home health care services. Seniors, as well as people who are recuperating at home after being discharged from hospitals, make up her client base.

As a small business, the lack of resources can be incredibly difficult at times. At one point, Kendal Home Care had to suspend its services when it was caught in a tussle between her insurance carrier and the Virginia Department of Health. The insurance company refused to augment her malpractice coverage to where the Health Department said it should be. It took nearly four months for the issue to be successfully resolved, and it tested her will to continue with her business.

Kekelwa took heart in the stories of other businesswomen she heard at networking meetings and in the lessons taught at the WBC. For this reason, she highly recommends becoming a member of trade associations and women’s networking groups, such as the National Association of Women Business Owners. One such networking episode (she contacted other women running home care agencies so she could learn about their businesses) lead to “some very positive interaction,” and she ended up sub-contracting for one of those agencies.

When asked what makes her want to come to work everyday, she says it’s definitely not the money – because as a small business, she does not expect profit in the first two years – but her interest in the field, her faith in what she is doing, and the value of the service she provides. It’s almost as if this were her calling.

This article (the third in my series on women-owned businesses in Northern Virginia) originally appeared in the Times Community Newspapers.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Beyond Blogging: Volunteering at Akshara

If you are a Bangalore based blogger or if you are someone who lives in Bangalore and wants to volunteer for a great cause with the Bangalore Bloggers, please read this and let us know if you are interested in joining us. Thank you.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Life is Beautiful

There was a wedding (the fourth in my generation on my mom's side) in my family a couple of weeks ago. So my son and I pretty much camped out at the wedding hall with family (but came home to sleep). We had almost every meal there for three days.

At one point, N had had enough of it. He clearly demarcates between "Indian Food" (rice, idlis, dosa, chapati, curries, sambhar) and "American Food" (pbj sandwiches, pancakes, pasta, cereal) and if he's had, let's say, idlis for breakfast, and rice and sambhar for lunch, then he flat out asks for American Food for dinner.

So after a couple of times of eating at the wedding, just as we were going into dinner, he asked to go home. He was tired. We had just returned from an overseas trip and he was recovering from a bad cough. Plus, at home, he could have pasta for dinner.

I hesitated. What will the relatives think? How will it look if I took off just as everyone was getting ready to sit together for dinner?

On the other hand, I really did not want to force N to stay if he did not want to. I could have imposed my will and made him stay. But why? He wasn't making a fuss. He was making logical arguments about why we should go home ("Mom, I'm tired." "Mom, look how bad my cough is," followed by a demonstration for my benefit.) I looked at N's pleading eyes and decided we were leaving.

We flagged down an auto and headed home. As we were riding back home he said, "Thanks Mom. Are you upset because we had to leave early?" I said he was welcome and of course not, I was'nt upset but glad he told me what he wanted to do. The relief on his face was palpable.

On the one hand I was thrilled that he had said thank you, but on the other hand was feeling wretched that he was feeling relieved and thankful at all. He was just being a five year old and I should be as understanding as I was in that instance every day, every instance.

But I'm not. Quite often other considerations creep in. I have my inspired moments, moments that would warrant a Mother of the Year award, if there were one, but those moments are rarer than I would like.

It is in those moments when I can see myself being a monster that I remember the movie Life is Beautiful.

Life is Beautiful is a movie about many things. It is a movie about the holocaust. It is a movie about the spirit of one man defying the might of the German war machine. It is a movie about love, about persistence. It is a movie about resilience.

Above all, it is a movie about parenting.

It is a movie about a father who, in the midst of all the misery and terror of a concentration camp, in the midst of the horrors taking place around him, never loses sight of the perspective of his young son.

Just so the little boy should not feel fear, the father pretends that the entire concentration camp experience is an elaborate game, translating the stentorian orders of the German soldiers into loud Italian (and not being faithful to the original German of course), pretending that the whole thing is an elaborate game of cops and robbers, a game of hide and seek.

I know it's just a movie and that in real life, practical considerations abound. But it's an insipiration nonetheless.

If you haven't already seen the movie, please do. Just make sure you have a box of tissues next to you when you do. And your favourite pjs, blankie and your favourite corner of the sofa will certainly help. We had some indication of the sadness the movie evoked as we watched the people from the previous showing walk out of the theater. But we had no idea until we watched the movie ourselves. When the movie ended, no one got out of their seats. People just sat and sobbed quietly.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Childbirth: Preparation is Key

As soon as I settled down on my bed in the hospital where I would deliver my baby, I looked around my room. I spied a beautiful white flower in a painting hanging on the wall across from me, and decided the flower would be my “focal point.” I would focus on that flower whenever I felt a contraction coming on, a technique I learned at my childbirth class.

When I was first pregnant with my son, I thought I knew how I wanted my childbirth experience to be. I briefly considered childbirth classes and decided they were not for me. None of the women in my family had ever sought formal instruction on how to handle labor, and I decided that I did not want to go to a class and be lectured on how to deliver a baby.

But when my obstetrician suggested that we may want to register in the childbirth classes offered at her practice, my husband said he wanted to go – for his sake. He wanted to know what to expect in the delivery room so he would not panic over something that was entirely normal. So we went, for an hour and a half every Monday starting in my seventh month of pregnancy, for six weeks.

Attending the childbirth classes was one of the best things I did during my pregnancy. Although I had read anything I could get my hands on about pregnancy and labor, the classes focused our attention on those few hours before, during and after childbirth. They gave us just enough information to decide if I wanted the epidural or wanted to try doing without.

If I wanted to do the latter, the classes gave us the tools – breathing exercises and focusing techniques – to manage the pain. The focusing techniques worked so well that, as labor progressed, I did not hesitate to ask anyone (including my doctor, at one point) who blocked my view of my focal point to get out of the way.

Best of all, my husband was an integral part of the childbirth. He could talk intelligently about contractions and the stages of labor, and he knew when to call the nurse or the doctor and when we could go through the process by ourselves. Although, prior to attending the classes, he was in favor of my taking epidural during labor, the information provided at the classes gave him the courage to support me through a natural childbirth.

Preparation was the key to our positive childbirth experience. We were able to anticipate the events that occurred in the labor room, and were equipped to handle them.

In the Washington, DC area, there are a variety of resources for childbirth preparation classes. Most OB/GYN practices offer classes at their offices, as do the hospitals with maternity services. In addition to these, Lamaze® International (http://www.lamaze.org/) and The Bradley Method® (http://www.bradleybirth.com/) both offer classes through certified instructors.

[Note: Hospitals in India now offer childbirth classes. Your OB/GYN should be able to direct you to one.]

While the goal of each of these classes is to prepare parents for labor and childbirth, they vary in terms of their approach to childbirth, content and length. As with any decision these days, from choosing the right color for the walls to buying a car, picking the right class warrants some research.

If you are looking for basic information regarding labor and childbirth, then the classes provided at your hospital or OB/GYN practice is a smart way to go. Classes are typically around six hours long and are tailored to fit various schedules. For example, there are weekend intensive courses, or courses that are spread over a few weeknights in one to three hour sessions.

These classes focus on the childbirth process and are taught by labor and delivery nurses who are familiar with your doctors’ or hospital’s approach to childbirth. Content varies slightly from practice to practice or from hospital to hospital, and includes topics such as the stages of labor, birth, medications, anesthesia, breathing and relaxation techniques, pain management techniques, and the role of the spouse or partner during labor. A tour of the hospital where the baby will be born is also typically included as part of the class.

Once you have attended the basic course, you have the option of registering for follow-up classes that provide more detailed information on childbirth topics such as relaxation breathing or cesarean births.

In addition to childbirth classes, most hospitals with maternity services and OB/GYN practices also offer classes in other aspects of parenting requiring separate registration. These include classes in breastfeeding, baby care, preparing siblings for the arrival of a new baby, CPR and infant massage.

For comprehensive courses providing detailed information on not only childbirth issues, but also pre-natal (nutrition and exercise) and post-natal (breastfeeding and newborn care) issues, The Bradley Method and the Lamaze method are good choices. Both methods have the common goal of producing healthy mothers and healthy newborns at the end of childbirth, but there is one important difference in terms of the way they approach that goal.

Susan Gunn, a Bradley Method instructor based in Washington, DC, describes the method as “a method of childbirth that teaches moms and dads about relaxation techniques in order to avoid unnecessary pain and medical intervention during childbirth.” Gunn uses the term “medical intervention” to describe any drug or procedure intended to augment the birth.

While the Bradley Method “is founded on the principle that with proper education and preparation, many women neither need nor want medical interference while giving birth,” the Lamaze method does not advocate non-medicated births.

“It advocates being informed about what is available and making informed choices based on your needs at the time,” says Gayle Miller, a Lamaze certified childbirth educator and Program Manager for Birth and Parenting Education at Inova Health Source. “A great deal of our women today want to use epidural anesthesia, which is a very positive thing to do.” says Miller.

The course content of both of these methods reflects their philosophies.

The Bradley course is 12 weeks long, and the individual instructor decides the duration of the classes each week. It covers a different relaxation technique each week, along with the coach’s role during each stage of pregnancy and labor. A discussion of each issue is accompanied by a discussion of non-medical ways of dealing with that issue.

Classes on the stages of labor, for example, emphasize “the natural process and [examine] the built-in safeguards for [the mother] and the baby.” The class on variations and complications (such as cesarean births) also discusses “how to avoid these problems if possible, how to evaluate whether it is necessary to intervene and how to handle interventions that become necessary.”

While stressing the natural method of childbirth, the Bradley Method recognizes that there is a time and a place for medical intervention. “Thank goodness we have medical intervention. But the Bradley Method is for women who are having healthy, low-risk pregnancies and anticipate a healthy, low-risk childbirth,” says Gunn.

Lamaze classes are at least 12 hours long, and are divided into a number of weeks. Classes are a combination of lecture, group activities, and demonstrations, and cover topics such as anatomy and physiology, pregnancy exercises, the different stages of labor, medication for labor and birth, cesarean births and newborn nutrition. A discussion of the different stages of labor includes coping strategies for both the mother and the support person.

Medical management and interventions form an integral part of these discussions. “The goal [of the Lamaze method] always has been for women to be able to make choices for themselves and to have the kind of childbirth experience they would like…. One of the keys is to have them be able to work with their physician or midwife so that they can have a positive childbirth experience,” says Miller.

Before registering for any childbirth preparation class, it is important to consider a few questions. What are you looking for in a class? Do you want a non-medicated, natural childbirth? Have you decided you want epidural? Or are you just looking for all the information you can get about the childbirth process so you can make the decisions later?

Your answers to these questions will determine which resource will be the most useful to you as you prepare for childbirth. For example, if you have decided you want to take epidural, then it would serve no purpose to go to classes that emphasize non-medicated, natural childbirths. But if you have not yet made a decision on that point, you would want to take classes that give you information to decide and the tools to cope with whatever kind of childbirth you decide on.

When you make the right choice, not only will you find that all the information you receive is useful to you and your partner, but you will also enjoy attending the classes with other expecting parents with similar goals and dreams for a positive childbirth experience.

A version of this article originally appeared in Washington Woman magazine.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Horoscopes - Why Do We Need Them?

Somebody please explain to me how horoscopes work. Or if at all they work.

If all the 64 factors in the horoscopes of the bride and the groom match, does it mean that they will never have a fight in their marriage, that they will never have financial, familial, emotional trouble as long as they are married to each other?

If none of the 64 factors matches, then does it mean that their marriage is doomed, that they will never have children, and if they do that the children will turn out lousy?

Is the amount of misery or happiness proportional to the number of factors that match?

Was it in the horoscopes of all those people that died in the tsunamis, the earthquake, the floods in Mumbai and New Orleans, the London tube and the double decker bus, the twin towers, and the planes that crashed into the twin towers, that they would all die that day?

Was it written in their horoscopes that they would all die together, terrorists and passengers and people on the ground alike, in a fire ball, in the company of strangers, away from the protective embrace of their mothers and fathers, children in schools with concrete crushing their bones to powder, fishermen in rickety boats, on beaches, and city-dwellers in ditches and drains?

Was it written in Senthil's horoscope that he would die trying to cross a New Delhi street? If he had known that, would he be alive today if he'd stayed home?

Was it writtein in Vaishali's horoscope that her own father would ask for sex from her and that she would be raped by her own son, twice? If someone had told her that, would she have escaped what happened to her?

If your horoscope says you'll be successful, does that mean that you don't have to go to school or work?

What is a horoscope if not a convenient crutch, something to blame when things don't go as planned, as you want them to?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Blogs Run by Women and Feminists

Neha of Global Voices (and Desipundit) is calling for blogs run by South Asian women and feminists for a feature she plans to do on Global Voices. If you have any suggestions please drop in a link at her site.

Earthquake Relief - Time is Running Out

I had hurriedly linked to Desipundit's post on Blogquake Day yesterday. They provide excellent links to organizations engaged in earthquake relief.

Here are some more links today. The situation seems dire, particularly with the impending onset of winter.

Uma has a post on the worsening situation which has links to relief organizations. Here is part of an article that Uma has linked to that delineates the risk that children are facing right now:

UNICEF warns thousands of children are at risk in mountains of Pakistan

In A Second Wave of Fatalities, Children Will Be First Victims

NEW YORK/GENEVA, 19 October 2005 – UNICEF warned today that tens of thousands of children are in peril in remote earthquake-affected parts of Pakistan because of deteriorating weather, injury, and illness.

The agency said that immediate steps must be taken to boost the number of children being reached if a second wave of deaths is to be averted during the harsh winter months now arriving.

UNICEF said that as many as 120,000 children remain unreached in the mountains on the Pakistan side of the line of control, of whom the agency estimated some 10,000 could die of hunger, hypothermia and disease within the next few weeks.

“The relief effort is becoming more complex with each passing day,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, speaking from Copenhagen where she was visiting UNICEF’s global supply warehouse. “There are still too few helicopters to reach more than 1,000 remote villages with life-saving supplies that children urgently need. Where we do have supplies on the ground, we have too few humanitarian partners to deliver them to those most in need.”

“Temperatures have dropped and weather conditions are getting worse,” Veneman said. “Access to affected areas has been badly affected as roads have become clogged with mud and people fleeing the mountains with their injured. Tens of thousands of children are at risk.”

The rest here.

The UN has almost doubled its quake aid appeal from about $300 million to about $550 million.

Paul Danahar, BBC's South Asia Bureau Chief has this write-up in the current issue of Outlook magazine on the situation in Pakistan. Very distressing.

Karrvakarela links to this post on what not to do when an earthquake hits. Flies in the face of what most of us have been taught. Must read. May not help those who are suffering right now, but it's a good thing to know for the future if, God forbid, something like this should ever happen again. He also has links to organizations accepting relief donations.

South Asia Quake Help
is an excellent resource as well.

Please give and please give generously.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Catching Up...Blogquake Day and Arka's Post

Finally surfacing from travel, a wedding, and a draining cough and cold.

Couple of things of note while I've been MIA...

Desipundit has designated October 26th as Blog Quake Day. If you follow this link, you will find a list of organizations that will accept donations for quake relief. Please do visit and contribute. Despipundit is becoming quite the expert in harnessing the power of bloggers!

Speaking of the power of bloggers, if you haven't already checked out Arka's post consolidating the IIPM write-ups and about the protest in Bangalore, please do check it out. It's here and here.

I thought I sounded pretty pathetic on the air yesterday, hacking my way through my shows on radio, but was told my sinus-clogged voice sounded great. All that coughing must have thickened my vocal cords and suffused my voice with a well-rounded richness. But what to do? The cough and cold will not stay around for long....

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Alibi - Parts IV and V are up

I've posted the final parts of The Alibi (Parts IV and V). They appear below Part III.

If you want to know what all this is about, please read this for background on this series. Thanks!
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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Parts II and III of the story are up

I've posted parts II and III of the short story. Parts IV and V in the next couple of days. Ciao!

Please see below Part I.

P.S.: Missing blogging terribly!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Short Story - The Alibi (Part 1)

Please read this for background on this series. Thanks.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Alibi


The ancient wooden gate creaked. Chandrashekar Murthy looked up from the newspaper he was pretending to read. He waited anxiously for Ravi and Suman to make their way up the driveway and through the front door to the huge verandah that he spent his evenings in. The doctor’s clinic was only a short walk away from the house, so Ravi had not bothered to take out the car.

Chandrashekar folded up the newspaper with studied concentration, all the while trying to read the expression on his daughter-in-law’s face. She removed her slippers at the door and placed them on the rack to the side before climbing the stars two at a time to her bedroom on the floor above. Chandrashekar felt his heart sinking, and the look on Ravi’s face confirmed his worst fears.

“What did the doctor say?”

Ravi said nothing. He could tell his father knew. He sank into the deep sofa that lined one side of the wall across from the easy-chair that his father reclined on.

“Why don’t you get a check up for yourself and Suman and see if everything is all right? May be you should get a second opinion, see another doctor. Someone more experienced in these matters. You’ve been seeing the same one...”

Ravi winced. “Appa, you know you’re just saying those things. You don’t mean them. The doctor says Suman and I are fine. This whole thing is beginning to get on my nerves! Suman is upset, you’re upset and I’m just fed up. I feel like a fool every time I go to the doctor.” Ravi buried his head in his hands, unable to meet his father’s eyes.

“Ravi, go to Suman. She must be feeling terrible. We’ll talk about this later.”

* * * * *

Suman bounded up the stairs two at a time, dashed into her bedroom and closed the door behind her, thankful that Ravi had remained downstairs. She leaned against the door and forced herself to take deep breaths. Her heart had been racing and she had felt out of breath all the way from the doctor’s clinic. When she felt a little steadier, she pushed herself away from the door and slowly made her way to the sink in the adjoining bathroom. Her flushed face welcomed the splash of cool water. She looked up and saw her face in the mirror hanging over the sink – the face of a distraught woman. Tears came hot and wet into her eyes. The mirror dissolved in front of her as she was transported to another time, another place – ten years ago, the operating room of the Darjeeling General Hospital.

* * * * *

Ravi climbed up the stairs slowly, one at a time. He wanted to make his getaway from his father, but was in no hurry to get to the bedroom. He reached the door and found it closed. He pushed at it gently and heard the splashing of the water in the bathroom. Suman must be washing up. It was almost time for dinner. He backed up and closed the door gently, thankful that he did not have to see her right then. He made his way to the spare bedroom that they used as a study. He sank into the large leather chair, stretched his legs out in front of him, let his head flop on the headrest and closed his eyes. He willed them to come, the images that haunted him.

They were there, ready, simmering just beneath the surface, and at times like this, when he did not try to push them down deep to a place where he would not have to acknowledge them, they swam up and roamed freely right before his eyes. It was a relief not to fight them.

The images were never the same. Sometimes, it was Amma on her bed, lying still, except for those rasping breaths that seemed to suck what little life there was out of her rather than sustain it. Along with the images came the smells. The smell of the chemicals that were coursing through her body, trying in vain to vanquish the marauding cancer cells. The smell of her room, a strange but comforting mixture of furniture, her clothes, her favorite talcum powder and her hair oil. Sometimes, when the images were of Amma in the kitchen, all those years ago, as he came running home from school, it was the smell of some delicious snack she had cooked up to cajole him into eating before he ran off to play.

But always, whenever Amma came to him, she left him with the image of her laid out in the verandah, waiting for the van to arrive from the crematorium, covered with a white sheet, the smells of fresh flowers and incense sticks trying to overcome the smell of death.

At other times, it was Appa, always aloof and stern, fiercely immersed in work, out of reach and unavailable, his demeanor as starchy as his crisply ironed shirt and dhoti. As Ravi grew older, Appa seemed to add layer after layer to the wall that he was putting up between them. What had gone wrong and when, wondered Ravi. He could not put his finger on anything he had done or said that had made Appa particularly angry with him. Ravi had begun to think he was cursed. The distance seemed to have crept between them and had made itself at home, refusing to budge. The first time Ravi felt it, it had caught him by surprise.

* * * * *

Part II will be up in the next couple of days.

Short Story - The Alibi (Part II)

Please read this for background on this series. Thanks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Alibi...(contd.)

Every visit that Suman made to the doctor brought back memories of those few months spent at the Darjeeling General Hospital all those years ago. Memories of the doctor assuring her and her parents that following the procedure, she would be perfectly normal. Memories of the procedure going horribly wrong and a contrite doctor telling her that she might never be able to conceive again.

The pure terror she had felt when she had first found out she was pregnant had never abated. Suman could still feel the room spinning around her, her legs not able to support her any longer. She clutched the sink for support and raised one hand to her cheek. Ma had not said a word when Suman had told her. She had stared at Suman silently. Suman felt the stinging slap on her cheek before she realized Ma had even raised her hand.

Suman was sixteen at that time, brought up in a well-to-do family, respected in their community. Ma and Papa had panicked. They had pulled her out of high school and taken her away from Raghu, to far away Darjeeling. Nosy friends and relatives were told that Papa had a medical condition that required a long stay in the cool climate of Darjeeling. Suman’s lips quivered at the memory of the anguish. She and Raghu had been so happy, madly in love. They had wanted to get married.

Her feelings had not stood a chance. Papa had been ruthless and Mama had stuck by him. They had had dreams for her, they said. She would finish high school, go on to college, and become a doctor. They were ashamed and mortified that she would bring this upon their family, they said. Where had they gone wrong, Ma lamented. Which respectable family will want her as a daughter-in-law, she fretted. He will break that boy Raghu’s knees if he ever saw him on the street, Papa threatened.

By all accounts, the procedure was meant to be quick and uncomplicated. The doctor had even declared the procedure a success right after she was wheeled from the operating room into her recovery area. The next day, they had performed a routine ultrasound to confirm that there was no lingering pregnancy tissue in her uterus. The doctor had become agitated. He pointed to two tiny gray grainy circles – something about holes in the uterus. Ma seemed to understand immediately.

Suman’s vessel of life was a sieve.

Ma gasped, the color draining from her face. Suman’s uterus had been punctured as they cleaned it, the doctor continued. Papa seemed to wither and shrink right before her eyes, suddenly looking powerless and deflated. He never spoke to Suman again.

When the family returned home a few months later, Ma convinced Papa to let her go back to school, if only to preempt probing relatives. Papa did not protest; he did not seem to care.

Suman’s head was throbbing now. Suman shook her head to banish the images in her head and stared at her dripping face in the mirror. She reached for the towel and wiped her face. Where were those painkillers?

* * * * *

Ravi could remember it now, the time when Appa had seemed to have lost all his ability to reason; it was right after his 10th birthday. Amma had come back yet again from the hospital, but this time, after an unusually long stay. She was resting in her room. Ravi was not sure why she had gone to the hospital this time, but he wanted to find out. He crept into her room when he came back from school and snuggled up to her. She winced when his knee rested against her stomach and gently pushed his knee down and pulled him closer.

“Amma, what happened at the hospital?”

“My stomach hurts” she said, caressing her belly.

“Why?”

She looked at him. She was searching his face for something. After what appeared to be a long time to Ravi,

“Ravi, Appa and I haven’t told you something. I wanted to wait until you were a little older, but…”

“But, what?”

“In a few months, you were going to have a little brother or sister. But…”

“Amma, but what?”

Amma’s chin wobbled. “The baby died.”

Ravi couldn’t remember the details of what happened next. The next few images were always of Amma starting to sob uncontrollably, Appa striding into the room and yanking him out of Amma’s arms. That was the first and only time Ravi could remember his father spanking him. He was in a rage and was screaming something about leaving his mother alone and not bothering her.

After that day, Appa never seemed to be the same again. He never looked Ravi in the eye when he spoke to him. He never asked how he was doing in school. Amma tried to make up for it. She tried to console him and told him over and over again that it was nothing he did that made Appa behave this way. Appa took the miscarriage really hard, she said. The miscarriage came at the end of eight long years of wanting and waiting to have another child. Amma had always been too sick with something or the other. To make matters worse, the doctor had forbidden them from trying again for another child. It was too risky for Amma’s health.

There was something else about the way Appa behaved with him that bothered Ravi. He shifted his head slightly to the right, as he lay stretched out on the leather couch in the study, as if he could will the order in which the images streamed into his mind. For all his indifference, Appa was desperate to keep Ravi at his side and Ravi always felt he was being watched.

Like the time Ravi had insisted on going away to college in a different town and Appa had insisted he stay, his pleas bordering on desperation. Ravi was taken aback. Why, he wondered. He had not expected this resistance. But Ravi had gone anyway, not wanting to come back home for a long time. Or like the time Ravi had brought a friend – a girl – home. Appa had wanted to find out everything. Did Ravi want to marry her? How many children do her parents have? Are they all married? Do they have any children? Ravi brushed the questions aside. She was just a friend; he did not want to marry her.

Appa’s demeanor seemed to change when Ravi and Suman were married. He seemed a little more relaxed. He even smiled when Suman came into the room. The marriage was arranged through one of Appa’s colleagues. The colleague had known Suman’s family for a long time.

Ravi took a deep breath and let it out slowly. If only Appa’s happiness had come a little earlier. Maybe he would not have felt so wretched all his life. Maybe he would not have gone down this cursed path.

Short Story - The Alibi (Part III)

The Alibi (contd...)

Chandrashekar watched his son climb the stairs and sighed. He grimaced at how hard he had tried to push Ravi away. Not a day went by now when Chandrashekar did not rue those lost years when he so foolishly thought that he could push Ravi away and therefore not feel this hurt Ravi was feeling now. He had been selfish, but Chandrashekar realized over the last few years that his aloofness had been futile. He could still remember the pure terror he felt when Ravi had asked to go away to college. He had begged Ravi to stay. He could not afford to lose him too…

Chandrashekar had not intended it at all, but Ravi had ended up suffering more than the share of his pain – the loss of his mother, the loss of his father’s affection, the loss of an unborn sibling, and now this greatest loss of all, the inability to have children. Ravi’s pain brought back memories. Memories he never succeeded in repressing. Memories of his own father explaining to him why he was adopted, and why Ravi would never know the pleasure of fathering his own flesh and blood. Chandrashekar had not believed it when he first heard it and he could not now. This was the 21st century for heaven’s sake!

He got up from his easy chair and walked over to the mesh that enclosed the verandah. He laced his fingers in the mesh and let his body rest on the strength of his fingers. He looked like a flea plastered on the wall. He stared out into the garden, his eyes taking in everything, but his mind seeing nothing. What should he do? Should he tell Ravi what his own father had told him? What purpose would that serve, wondered Chandrashekar.

* * * * *

She walked back into the bedroom and sat at the edge of the bed wondering how she had gotten herself in this predicament. Ma and Papa had relived the pain when it was time for Suman to get married. The marriage proposals came, unsolicited, from well-meaning friends and family. No one knew. Suman remembered how scared she had been. What if someone found out? Ma and Papa seemed to be at a loss. Should they entertain these proposals? Should they put them off? But for how long? Tongues would start wagging if Suman was not married soon.

When Papa’s close friend came with a proposal, Suman had wanted to go forward with the process if only to change her surroundings. She had wanted to put an end to this. She was tired of walking on egg shells. Living in the same house with Ma and Papa never allowed her to forget. For Ma and Papa, she had turned into a constant reminder of an ugly episode in their lives.

Suman let her body fall on the bed and closed her eyes. She had been naïve. Forgetting had not been that easy. The egg shells were all around her, challenging her to navigate them. Now, she had two other lives to worry about. Two lives she was about to crush with her story.

She knew it was time. Ever since she and Ravi had tried to start a family, she had approached every visit to the doctor with a combination of trepidation and hope -- afraid that her secret would be revealed, and hopeful that the doctor might give them the good news that she had conceived. It had to be done. Ravi had to be told the truth.

* * * * *

The visits to the doctor always drained him. Ravi had been thankful to have found a doctor that didn’t seem to find anything wrong with him. He resisted Appa’s attempts to have them switch doctors. But Ravi could no longer bear the crushing disappointment he was sure Suman and Appa must be feeling. He could see it on their faces. He felt responsible. He could not find any other explanation. The doctor said Suman was fine. She was young and healthy, and there was no reason she could not conceive. Ravi felt certain he was the cause. Another doctor at another place and another time had been certain too.

Fifteen years of keeping that secret was fraying his nerves now. Even at the height of the crisis, he had not told his parents, relying instead on his friends to pull him out of the morass he had found himself in. Amma’s illness had made things worse…

Ravi pulled himself off the back of the chair and bent forward, hiding his face between his knees and hugging his legs. His best friend Shekar – had he been a friend or a curse? In high school, where Ravi first met him, he had seemed like a god send. They had moved on to the same college. Shekar was self-assured. He never seemed to feel any of the inadequacies that Ravi always seemed to be feeling. Ravi leeched on to him. Shekar didn’t seem to mind Ravi tagging along. They did everything together – or, Ravi thought disdainfully – Shekar did everything and Ravi just followed. They studied together, they went to the movies together, they played together, they drank together, did drugs together.

Ravi quickly learned the comforts of drinking and doing drugs. It didn’t seem to matter anymore that Appa was distant, nor that Amma was sick all the time. The images were all fading into one another in Ravi’s mind. Nothing else mattered but the next snort or the welcome pain of the syringe.

The trip to Ooty during his final year of college brought the starkest images to Ravi’s mind. Maybe the drugs were spurious or maybe it was the fact that they had mixed alcohol with drugs, but Ravi and Shekar found themselves at the hospital the day after they arrived in Ooty. A hotel attendant found them passed out in a corner of the garden.

The doctor at the local hospital there had not minced his words. “You’ve been at this a long time, haven’t you? Do you know what drugs do to you?” Ravi turned his gaze away from the doctor. The doctor had launched into a lecture anyway. He talked about how drugs ravaged the body and the mind. He talked about impotence and sterility. Ravi just wished he would go away. Did any of this really matter?

Now, he was tired. He just wanted it to stop – the visits to the doctor, the dread that invaded his days and nights before the visits and the guilt that followed. He did not know what coming clean would do to him, or his marriage, or his relationship with Appa. But, surely, anything would be better than living like this! It had to be done. He would tell them today. After dinner.

Short Story - The Alibi (Part IV)

Please read this for background on this series. Thanks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Alibi (contd)...


Suman gulped down the painkillers and walked into the kitchen to see what Kamala Bai had made for dinner. Kamala Bai had been a god send. She had been in charge of the kitchen ever since Ravi’s mother had passed away ten years ago of cancer. She arrived early each morning and cooked that day’s breakfast and lunch, and came again around four in the evening to cook dinner. She originally delivered milk to the Murthys everyday, when Ravi’s mother was still alive. She had started bringing food to Ravi and his father in those first few weeks after her death until all the rituals of the funeral were complete. As Ravi and his father grew comfortable with her, she saw her role being expanded into that of a full-time cook and had stayed on that way even when Ravi got married. Suman loved having not to worry about cooking on top of her job at one of the clothing manufacturers in town.

Suman found chapathis, potato curry, rice, carrot and onion sambhar, and cucumber raitha. On most days, her mouth would have watered at this spread and she would have excitedly called to Ravi and her father-in-law to come to dinner. Today she silently picked up the dishes and took them to the dining table in the adjacent room. She brought the steel thalis and set them out, Chandrashekar’s at the head of the table, and one each for Ravi and Suman on either side. She knew she was forgetting something, but she sat down wearily at her chair.

Ravi came down the stairs and heard a noise in the dining room. He found Suman at her chair, head in her hands.

“Suman…”

“Oh, hi! Sorry, don’t know what I’m doing. Can you call your father, please? Its getting late for dinner.”

“I will… Are you OK?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

Suman turned to look Ravi in the face.

“Ravi, we need to talk. After dinner.”

“What is it? Is everything all right?”

“No, you know its not. But I don’t want to get into this now. Could we please wait until after dinner?”

“OK… Suman…?”

“Please, not now.”

“No, not that. I need to talk to you too.”

Suman looked at Ravi, searching, trying to recognize the expression on his face. She couldn’t.

“Sure, OK.”

Ravi put his head through the doorway connecting the dining room with the verandah and found his father leaning against the mesh, staring out into the garden.

“Appa! Dinner is ready.”

Chandrashekar turned. “I’ll be there in a minute. Did Suman come down?”

“Yes, she did.”

“OK, I’ll be there.”

Chandrashekar pulled himself away from the mesh. He washed his hands and face in the little sink in the hallway and walked into the dining room. Ravi was pouring water into the steel tumblers. Suman brought in the butter milk from the kitchen and sat down at the table.

Chandrashekar looked at his son and daughter-in-law. They seemed to be distraught. Suman looked like she had cried. Her hands shook as she silently served her father-in-law and her husband before sitting down at her plate. Ravi had a faraway look on his face. For the tenth time that day, Chandrashekar wished his wife hadn’t left him alone.

He gave up pretending. He stood suddenly from his chair. His plate was untouched. Before Ravi could open his mouth, he had walked to the sink and washed his hands. “Appa?”

Suman looked at her father-in-law, bewildered. In many ways, Chandrashekar was an orthodox man and true to Hindu tradition, he never let anyone or anything interrupt his meals. Chandrashekar came back to the table, wiping his hands with the towel that was a permanent fixture around his neck. “Ravi, I need to talk to you.”

Ravi got up to wash his hands, as Suman sat frozen, unsure of what she should be doing. Chandrashekar motioned to her to follow him into the verandah. “This is for you too.” He sat down in his easy-chair, seeking comfort in its familiarity.

“I don’t know how I’m going to tell you this.” Chandrashekar’s eyes welled up. He dabbed at the edge of his eyes with his towel as Ravi and Suman exchanged concerned glances. Ravi and Suman sat together in the sofa across from Chandrashekar.

He took a deep breath and turned his face to them. “This is very painful. I had no right to do this to you, especially to you, Suman. But you have to understand, I did not believe a word of it when my father first told me and I don’t believe it now. That’s why I did not say anything to your parents when Ravi and I first came to meet you. Who can believe in a curse? Tell me! I wish your mother were here now. She would know what to do. It’s just like her to leave me and go away. I wish I had died first. Now I feel responsible for the pain you two are suffering…” Chandrashekar got up and started pacing the floor.

“Appa, will you tell me what’s going on? You’re not making any sense. Suman, get him a glass of water. Appa, calm down! Here, sit down and relax.” Ravi held his father by the arm and brought him back to his chair.

Suman rose to go to the water filter in the dining room. She was bewildered. For the moment, her turmoil was forgotten. She was concerned for her father-in-law. She had never seen him like this before.

Chandrashekar gulped down the water gratefully.

The Alibi - Part V (Final)

Please read this for background on this series. Thanks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Alibi (contd.)...


“Do you want to rest now and talk later? This is not good for your heart. You know what the doctor said.”

“No, Suman. I’m OK. I have to do this now. It has gone on far enough.”

“Ravi, our family goes back ages into history. You know that, don’t you? We can trace our origins to the royal family of Saurashtra. Our ancestors were kings. They ruled large kingdoms and fought bloody wars to conquer other kingdoms. The legend is that one of the kings who ruled in the early part of the seventeenth century fought a war against the neighboring kingdom. He thought that the conquest would be easy. As it turned out, the war was prolonged and it took a lot of lives. Eventually, he won...

“Appa, are you telling us a story now? What has this got to do with anything?”

“Just listen to me! Don’t interrupt. In the course of the war, the enemies lost not only their king, but also the future heirs, leaving the queen widowed and childless. She laid a curse on our family. Our bloodline would never be passed on.”

Ravi stared at his father, his mouth suddenly dry.

Chandrashekar paused and looked at Ravi and Suman. Convinced he had their attention, he continued, “Sure enough, the king’s son, the prince, who eventually got married, was childless. He was forced to adopt the son of his sister so that the throne would have an heir. Later, it turned out that the adopted son fathered two children. Everybody was relieved, believing that the curse had worn off. But then, a strange thing happened. The next generation went childless again. This pattern has been unbroken for the past two centuries. Every alternate generation has to adopt.”

“So what you are saying is that you were adopted? And…I’m not going to have any children of my own? Because of a curse?” Chandrashekar countered the beseeching look on his son’s face with a slow nod.

“Suman, I am very sorry. Nothing I can ever do or say will ease the hurt we have caused you. I had no right to keep this from you or your parents. May be you would have had children of your own. This family is cursed. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Chandrashekar sank into his chair, the weight of his guilt – heavier than the relief he felt at not having to hide the secret any longer – buried him deeper into the cushions, making him appear smaller, more frail.

Ravi sat back from the edge of the sofa, resting his suddenly aching back against the back cushion.

Suman lowered her eyes to the gleaming red oxide floor.

Silence descended on the house, broken only by steady ticking of the old grandfather clock.


The End

Blogging Break and Short Story (The Alibi)

I'm off on a little break.

Although I know I will have plennnnnnty of inclination, I may not have the time or the technological wherewithal to write new posts.

So, I request your induldgence as I leave you with one of my longish short stories, The Alibi.

Today, I'm posting the first part.

Over the next few days, parts II to V will appear, but I will post it as the story would read as if you were reading it from the beginning, i.e., the second part will appear below the first part, etc., so if someone comes to the blog without having read part 1, they will not see part 2 first.

Here goes...

Taking Stock

In a little over three months of blogging, I've come across beautiful, brilliant, evocative writing, insightful commentary, throught-provoking essays, posts about books, places, movies that I'd long forgotten or had never heard of which the posts made me instantly want to go and get so I could relive the blogger's experience, posts about news from all over the world that I would never have made my way to if left to my own devices, and poignant posts about family, children, friends. I've come across bloggers whose writing I enjoy, whose comments I value, whose feedback is much appreciated, and whose take on an issue I've written is sometimes very different and for that reason very welcome.

Unfortunately, I've also come across ugliness.

There are always two sides to a story. There are as many opinions on an issue as the number of people who have the slightest knowledge about that issue.

That said, the only way to make any progress or to achieve desirable results is to engage in civil discourse. Making personal attacks on the messenger takes away attention not only from the issue being fought over but also from any serious consideration of ways of resolving that issue.

And, most importantly, I might add, personal attacks take away from the credibility of the person making the attacks.

For the latest example of erosion of civility in the blogosphere, and to see what our fellow bloggers are doing about it, head over to Desipundit. Kaps, Patrix and others have taken up arms over personal attacks aimed at bloggers and have aggregated all the relevant posts and comments. I don't know much about the issue that's being debated (merits of claims made by some of the new management institutes in India), but I do know that bloggers need to band together and make our voice heard against personal attacks.

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